Ignacio’s Southern Ute Museum may not be on most regional folks’ radar, but it should be. Its latest exhibit, “The Inside Out: Visions From the Artist’s Mind,” inspires even more reason to visit the impressive modern cultural center.
“Inside Out” showcases 10 Native American artists’ work that they’ve pulled from their mind’s eye and into creation. The layered name also refers to the museum displaying its two-dimensional pieces from its collection vault. The show opened April 5 in the museum’s temporary gallery and runs through April 2020.
The dynamic permanent gallery is filled life-size models and interactive displays. It’s not conducive for displaying 2-D artworks in one place.
“The premise was to showcase the 2-D works in a unique way,” said Jed Smith, who prepared the exhibit.
The 10 artists on display include Orian Box, Woody Crumbo, Sam English, McGarey Gallegos, Norman Lansing, Sam Ray, Byron Red Sr, Dorothy Strait, Bennett Thompson and Russell Box Sr.
Lansing is known for his sgraffito pottery, whereby he etches traditional Ute and Pueblo designs onto the glaze. One of his pots is on display in “Inside” along with two pen-and-ink drawings. Smith said he is a fan of Lansing’s work because pen and ink or etching don’t allow for mistakes.
“He is a very confident artist,” Smith said.
Lansing pulls from traditional Native American values like the spiritual connection to the earth and all of creation. But his two-dimensional work incorporates more modern, abstract imagery, which he says allows him to be looser when working. While abstract, he says they are also realistic in the sense he is not trying to romanticize Native people in a stereotypical way that is so often seen in the Southwest.
Because the non-traditional images are not as recognizable, he said many Native people don’t connect with it until he explains his ideas. His piece “Black Bird,” for instance, displays the mystical bond between man and the raven. The many circles in his work represent the continuous cycle of life. But Lansing’s main goal is to express positive energy.
“Wherever it’s coming from, there is a purpose for me to let the people know that there is beauty, there is compassion, there’s love and there’s a positive way at looking at everything,” he said.
Much of the artwork in “Inside Out” expresses spirituality.
Ignacio resident, Southern Ute elder and veteran Box Sr.’s work seems to anchor the show. His geometric works are bold and vibrant and particularly striking. His pieces are mixed in throughout the gallery, and a large portrait of Box Sr. in his studio dominates the back wall and serves as the exhibit’s centerpiece.
Box Sr. has a connection to the museum so Smith said they took advantage of the ability to go directly to the source to create the original display.
“When we looked at the overall plan for the exhibition we knew we wanted to have more flair than a white-wall gallery,” Smith said.
They went to his studio to photograph Box Sr. working. In front of the picture of Box Sr. is his piece, “Respect the Creator,” along with a prop stool and supplies. Some of Box Sr.’s actual paintbrushes are in the display cases in the center of the gallery. They recorded hours of audio of Box Sr. describing his work, which plays in the background. This display gives the viewer the sense of the Box’s process – what happens between inside and out.
Furthering the idea is the stock audio of an artist’s paint strokes that fill the entire gallery. The museum has utilized audio in past exhibits as a way to deepen visitors’ engagement with the work.
Other notable pieces in the gallery include Dorothy Strait’s powwow scene (she is the only woman in the group) and McGarey Gallegos’ creation story paintings, which have never been shown before.
Entry is always free and provided by the Southern Ute Indian Tribe. The center’s permanent gallery chronicles the story of the Ute people. “It Happened Long Ago,” a visual and written display of animal morality stories, is showcased on the second floor.
Lansing has an upcoming solo show at Bomdiggity, 550 Railroad Ave. in Mancos. His work is also on display at Toh-Atin Gallery and Lanka Blue in Durango.
The Southern Ute Museum is open seven days a week from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. at 503 Ouray Drive in Ignacio. For more information, visit southernutemuseum.org.