A thematic show at the Mona Bismarck Foundation constitutes a rare
opportunity to discover a remarkable selection of North American
Indian objects and works of art belonging to the Eugene and Clare Thaw collection. Spectacular eagle-feathered headresses, masks, ceramics and
basketry are just a few of the dozens of exhibits recalling the
daily life of Indian tribes, throughout the United States and
The superbly decorated skin garments that open the show are rich in symbolism. They were created by
the descendants of nomadic hunters who roamed the Great Plains
for thousands of years. Apart from being their primary source
of nourishment, bison furnished the hides which the Indians used
for tipi coverings and clothing, the bones they transformed into
tools and the sinew they employed as thread.
The Indians had shamanic beliefs that prompted them to communicate with the spirit of an animal
before a hunt, or conjure up dream imagery to create art. Quill-worked patterns characteristic of these visions are featured on most of the garments
on display, while equally distinctive geometric shapes appear
on their carvings and paintings. Exclusive rights to a particular
motif dreamt up via a given dream were passed down from one generation to the
next and kept in the family by the women of each tribe.
By the 17th century, European influences started to reach the
plains through trading networks. Horses and metal tools made life
easier, while glass beads and cloth provided traditional art forms
with new materials. The exhibition showcases horse masks and other ornamental equestrian gear, reflecting the Indians
love of horseback riding.
Throughout, there is a tremendous sense of their mastery of an
often hostile environment by the creative use of native materials
for every imaginable purpose. The actual gathering and preparation
of different varieties of grass, spruce or cedar bark, as well
as cattail leaves and fern stems was a seasonal ritual that became an art form
in itself. Each tribe developed its own twining or coiling techniques
and basketry emerged as a highly-intricate mode of expression.
Traditionally, to become an artist one had to be born into a family
through whom the copyright of an entire series of recurrent visual motifs had been officially
transmitted! Basket weavers intermarried and their combined ideas
slowly generated hitherto unpublished forms and patterns. One
of the most stunning pieces in the show is a celebrated basket
named Beacon Lights, created by the master weaver Louisa Keyser
Art des Indiens dAmérique du Nord daily from 10:30am to 6:30pm,
closed Sun/Mon, to Mar 18, Mona Bismarck Foundation, 34, av de
New York, 16e, tel: 01.47.23.38.88, M° Alma Marceau, free.
Galerie Urubamba: a forum for Indian culture
The beautiful Left Bank locale Galerie Urubamba was created by
Roberta Rivin, an American specialist in Indian art from North and South America.
When Rivin came to settle in Paris some 28 years ago, Latin American
objects, jewelry and woven fabrics were all the rage. Rivin, who
had lived in Brazil with her two young children was amazed that
cheap and often poorly-made tourists souvenirs were generating
so much interest in the worlds fashion capital. Roberta knew
there existed quality items created by Indian craftsmen throughout
the American continent.
That was the actual beginning of the gallery, she explains, this desire I had to show fine traditional work,
limited to one-of-a-kind pieces that are genuine works of art,
rather than something mass-produced in quantity. This month,
the gallery spotlights a handsome selection of colorful hand sewn
Mola from Panama, along with North American Indian war shirts, peace pipes and
bags decorated with porcupine quills and moose hair.
Over the years, the gallery has developed as a bookstore and resource
center, possessing some 3,000 volumes. Conferences, workshops
and school visits focusing on Native American topics are scheduled
regularly. And, in early May, a hands-on workshop on the creation
of Molas will be taught by a Kuna Indian.
Rivins lifelong interest has been the study of societies that
are very different from those found in Europe or the United States.
She is fascinated by the remnants of ancient cultures not yet
transformed by western consumerism. My passion is not just about Indians... In fact, Im trying to discover how other less materialistic-minded
people live in this world, Rivin says. After a moment of reflection
she adds, when people come to the gallery, its important that
they understand that everything they see is a work of art.
Galerie Urubamba, daily 2-7pm, closed Sun/Mon, 4, rue de la Bûcherie,
5e, tel: 01.43.54.08.24, M° St-Michel