‘Original Warrior’ Explores Military Experience of Native Americans

Tom Jones, Military Poles Tom Jones, Samuel Thundercloud  from the Military Poles  series, 1999 to ongoing. Digital photographs. Photo courtesy of Tom Jones. The National Veterans Art Museum presents Original Warrior, a powerful exhibition that displays the work of eleven Native American artists (eight who are military veterans) as they explore the complex issues between warrior and community, warrior and war, and warrior and service. On display are 30 works in various visual mediums — paintings, photography, prints, lithographs, beadwork, as well as an installation. Original Warrior  features the work of the following Native American artists: Rick Bartow (Wiyot, Vietnam War) Miridith Campbell (Kiowa, U.S.M.C., U.S. Army, U.S. Navy) T.C. Cannon (Kiowa/Caddo, Vietnam War) Melissa Doud (Lac Du Flambeau-Chippewa, Iraq, Army) Teri Greeves (Kiowa), John Hitchcock (Comanche) Tom Jones (Ho-Chunk) Monty Little (Dine, Iraq War, USMC) Clarence Monegar (Winnebago, WWII, Ambulance Driver) Lloyd Kiva New (Cherokee, WWII, Navy), and Horace Poolaw (Kiowa, WWII, Army) The strength and depth of this this exhibition is the impact it makes on different levels — the artists express their experience of being veterans, their viewpoint about their country, and their cultural perspective as Native Americans. Rick Bartow, A View Across the River Rick Bartow, A View Across the River, 1987. Charcoal, pastels, and graphite on paper. Photo courtesy of the National Veterans Art Museum. Some of the works explore psychological issues such as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Rick Barrow suffered from PTSD after serving in Vietnam and found an expressive outlet by creating art as a way to convey his experiences. His works such as A View Across the River, Icarus 10 and Crow Dance are strong examples of how he expresses those feelings. Another powerful image is On Drinking Beer in Vietnam in 1967  by  T.C. Cannon. In this lithograph, we see the integration of the traditional warrior with the contemporary soldier as Cannon creates a scene of two friends who wear army uniforms with eagle feathers in their hair while they share a beer. He adds an ominous quality to this work by having an atom bomb explode behind them. A set of 24 photographs, the Military Poles series, by Tom Jones is rich in ethos as he documents how the Ho-Chunk community honors Native American veterans (those who have died in combat and those who have passed away after serving) during the Memorial Day powwow in Black River Falls, Wisconsin. These photos are part of an ongoing project that he started in 1999 and has compiled over the last nineteen years. Teri Greeves, Prayer Blanket, Original Warrior Teri Greeves, Prayer Blanket, 2006. Brain-tanned deer hide, cotton cloth, wool cloth, silk ribbon, beads, and hawk bells. Photo courtesy of Tom Jones. Teri Greeves follows in the historical tradition of her Kiowa grandmothers by creating a prayer blanket — she uses the techniques and materials of her ancestors while expressing herself as a twenty-first century Kiowa woman. Regarding her prayer blanket for this exhibition, Greeves stated, “This blanket is my prayer — a prayer for all the Kiowa men and women serving in the Middle East to take their rightful place with the Kiowa warriors that have come before them.” Melissa Doud’s Bullet Dress is a compelling work because it is designed and fabricated from a military uniform, 365 spent bullet casings, and patches. After serving 20 years in the military including one tour in Iraq, Doud is now a powwow jingle dancer. There is an insightful quote from her on the wall text where she states, “Creating the dress after I came back from Iraq was part of my healing journey. Now I can dance for others and can display the path I went through to get here.” Melissa Doud, Bullet Dress. Original Warrior. Melissa Doud, Bullet Dress. Military uniform, patches, and bullet shells. Photo courtesy of Tom Jones. Another compelling work are two installations by John Hitchcock — one is titled America! America! and the other The Protector. His work reflects growing up on Comanche tribal lands in Oklahoma near the Fort Sills military base. Hitchcock’s art is deeply influenced by childhood memories of living in an environment where animals (wolves, buffalo, deer) co-existed with tanks and aircraft. Original Warrior is a captivating exhibition not only on an artistic level, but also as a historical and social narrative on how Native American nations have a long tradition of honoring and welcoming veterans back into their community. Statistics from the U.S. Department of Defense state that the percentage of Native Americans who enlist in the military is higher than any other ethnic group in the U.S. This exhibition will be on view through April 22, 2019 at the National Veterans Art Museum located at 4041 N. Milwaukee Avenue (second floor). Hours: Tuesday through Saturday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Admission is free. For more information about other exhibitions and events at the museum, visit their website or call (312) 326-0270.
Picture of the author
Thomas Wawzenek