The Summer of 2022 saw the very first one-hundred-percent indigenous art exhibit at the Middletown Art Center in Lake County (California): an art exhibit curated by nationally renowned basketweaver and indigenous knowledge holder Corine Pearce, with artwork from the Native California tribal artists.
Weavers, painters, regalia-makers, printmakers, digital media experts, and jewelry makers from area tribes contributed their best works for the exhibit, which is on display for three months.
As reported by Art Center Director Lisa Kaplan, “the exhibit includes baskets, paintings, photos, digital media, and installations. Artwork on display celebrates traditional cultural arts and resilience while highlighting current, and long-time challenges and issues including ongoing colonialism, land access and place-based land management, (also known as Traditional Ecological Knowledge or TEK), intergenerational trauma, Missing and Murdered Indigenous women, identity, and blood quantum.”
“The Earth Sky and Everything in Between exhibit is a very exciting event for the small town of Middletown and Lake County,” said Millie Simon, Middletown Rancheria Tribal Elder. ‘Indian people honor the artwork of our ancestors. Our past, present, and future connect through the arts of basket and regalia making. Art is education, and cultural education is very important amongst the Tribes”.Millie Simon, quoted in the Lake County Record Bee
(The following material is excerpted from the Middletown Art Center website, where you can view a 3D tour of the exhibit if you aren’t able to make it in person.)
July 11, 2022 — The Middletown Art Center in Lake County was packed on Saturday night. Visitors from several counties were there to look at work by 31 Native American artists, including traditional baskets, digital art and paintings, woodcut prints, bobbleheads, and a short film about the historical context of Jules Tavernier’s paintings. “Tonight, we are at the opening of Earth, Sky, and Everything in Between, which is actually the first time that a Native American has curated art by Native Americans. Ever,” said curator Corine Pearce, just as visitors began to arrive. She’s from the Little River Band of Pomo Indians in Redwood Valley, but she also claims ancestry from people indigenous to Lake County.
Pearce said the show is a culmination of a year-long project that involved teaching basket-making to Native and non-Native people as a way to build cultural bridges. She emphasized the variety of styles and approaches on display. “While we were setting this up, the owner of the gallery, Lisa Kaplan, said she’d never had as many mediums in at one time. So we have acrylic on canvas, we have three-dimensional baskets of lots of kinds, including electrical cable…if you are alive, and you are Indigenous, no matter what art you’re making, it is contemporary art.”
That includes commemorating recent achievements and memorializing ongoing tragedy. In one small room, there are a pair of mannequins in a mix of modern and traditional regalia, and a haunting empty skirt covered with red handprints. One piece celebrates a young woman’s recent graduation, while the other is a reminder of how many Indigenous women are missing and murdered. According to statistics that are part of the installation, Indian women are murdered at a rate of ten times the national average, though only 2% of the known number are included in the Department of Justice database.
Many of the artists are displaying their work for the first time, from twelve-year-old Sarah Franklin, who made a small red basket, to 75-year-old Wanda Quitiquit, who created a special technique for burning designs onto gourds. But some of the artwork has been on tour. The video about Jules Tavernier’s paintings of the Elem people, which includes local experts discussing the mercury mining that began at that time, was recently at the De Young Museum in San Francisco. “It was actually at the Met first, and then it came to the De Young,” Pearce said. “When it came to the De Young Museum, they incorporated more representations of living artists. I happened to be one of those artists. So they had my baskets, they had baskets of Susan Billy, they had baskets of Clint McKay, and they had tule dolls made by Meyo Marruffo. That exhibit just ended, and they sent the stuff back to me, and then I brought that stuff here to exhibit here for a little while, and then it’s going to go to the Grace Hudson Museum (in Ukiah). So we have some really ‘fine art’ art here.”