The Norman Transcript

September 21, 2012

New art museum exhibit to represent indigenous cultures

By Hannah Cruz
The Norman Transcript

NORMAN — A collection of more than 4,000 pieces of art opening at the University of Oklahoma Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art this weekend offers insight into Native American history, culture and a growing art genre.

The James T. Bialac Native American Art Collection, gifted in 2010 by James T. Bialac of Arizona, gives the public access to 2,600 paintings and works on paper, 1,000 kachina dolls and 100 pieces of jewelry representing indigenous cultures across North America.

“You’ve got to see it to understand it, or not necessarily understand it, but to appreciate it. It is an educational tool,” Bialac said of his collection. “I’m just thrilled that the University of Oklahoma would like the collection and to take care of it. And thanks to President David Boren and the staff at the museum, they’re doing a fantastic job making sure Native American art is appreciated.”

To celebrate the collection’s opening, the museum, at 555 Elm Ave., is offering free admission Saturday. A community celebration is scheduled from 1 to 6 p.m. Sunday, featuring artist demonstrations by Tony Abeyta, Anita Fields, Benjamin Harjo Jr., Linda Lomahaftewa and America Meredith. The OU School of Dance also is performing a specially choreographed number.

For more information on museum hours and admission prices, visit or call 325-4938.

The collection also will be on display at the Sam Noble Museum of Natural History, the Donald E. Pray Law Library at the College of Law and the Charles M. Russell Center for the Study of Art of the American West, for a total exhibition space of more than 40,000 square feet at OU.

Free docent-led tours of the exhibits at the Law Library, 300 W. Timberdell Road, will be offered 3:30 p.m. today and 3:30 p.m. Sunday. The Russell Center, located across the street from the Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art, will be open with free admission from 1 to 6 p.m. Sunday.

The Sam Noble Museum, 2401 Chautauqua Ave., opens “Dancers and Deities: Kachinas from the James T, Bialac Native American Art Collection,” today with free admission to the public.

Southwest Visions: Paintings from the James T. Bialac Native American Art Collection will open Oct. 5. Both exhibits run through Jan. 6, 2013.

Bialac first began collecting the pieces in 1964. His collection now includes a variety of medias and spans 100 years. Bialac said he didn’t confine his purchases to any certain tribe, region, style or artists, but rather bought what he considered to be quality art.

The result is what Eugene B. Adkins and Chief Curator Mark White called a “comprehensive survey of 20th century Native American art.”

“Every artist of influence or importance from the beginning of the century onward is included in this collection,” he said. “It is invaluable as a teaching resource.”

Included Native artists are the likes of Fred Kabotie, Awa Tsireh, Fritz Scholder, Joe Herrera, Allan Houser, Jerome Tiger, Tonita Pena, Helen Hardin, Pablita Velarde, George Morrison, Richard “Dick” West, Patrick DesJarlait and Pop Chalee.

Their work in the collection, paired with the museum’s previously donated Native and Southwest collections (the Eugene B. Adkins Collection and the Rennard Strickland Collection), provides a complete look into Native American art throughout the 20th century, said Heather Ahtone, James T. Bialac assistant curator of Native American and non-Western art.

The combined collections have made OU an important institute to study Native American 20th century art, Ahtone said, and has recently led to the creation of a new, first-of-its-kind doctorate program in art history focusing on the art of the American West and Native American art.

For Bialac, that was the point of making his collection public.

“There is an educational point as well as an aesthetic point,” he said.

Beyond professional study, Ahtone said the collection — with portions on display permanently and some in rotation — provides an insight to the public on the vitality and diversity of Native American art.

Portions of the collection will be exhibited continuously at the University of Arizona’s Daniel F. Cracchiolo Law Library, Arizona State University’s John J. Ross-William C. Blakely Law Library and the Arizona Supreme Court and Court of Appeals in Phoenix.

The extensive opportunities in Oklahoma and Arizona help realize Bialac’s goal of educating the public on the richness and complexity of Native American art and culture, White said.


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