MONTCLAIR ART MUSEUM PRESENTS UNPRECEDENTED RETROSPECTIVE
KAY WALKINGSTICK: AN AMERICAN ARTIST
February 3–June 17, 2018
Montclair Art Museum is the Final Stop on the National Tour
“My present paintings of mountains and sea are vistas of memory—
our America the beautiful. They are meant to glorify our land and
honor those people who first lived upon it.” –Kay WalkingStick
MONTCLAIR, NJ, November 27, 2017—Kay WalkingStick: An American Artist, an unprecedented exhibition organized by the American Federation of Arts and the Smithsonian's National Museum of the American Indian, will travel to the Montclair Art Museum (MAM) for the final stop on its national tour. The exhibition is the first major retrospective of Kay WalkingStick (b. 1935), a citizen of the Cherokee Nation and one of the world’s most celebrated artists of Native American ancestry. It will be on view at MAM February 3–June 17, 2018.
Featuring more than 60 of WalkingStick’s most notable paintings, drawings, notebooks, and the diptychs for which she is best known, the exhibition traces her career over more than four decades and culminates with her recent paintings of monumental landscapes and Native places. Her distinctive approach to painting emerged from the cauldron of the New York art world, poised between late modernism and postmodernism of the 1960s and 1970s. Over decades of intense and prolific artistic production, she sought spiritual truth through the acts of painting and metaphysical reflection. Organized chronologically around themes that mark her artistic journey, Kay WalkingStick: An American Artist traces a path of constant invention, innovation, and evolving artistic and personal growth through visually brilliant and evocative works of art.
Night/ᎤᎡᎢ (Usvi) (1991), a seminal work by WalkingStick, was borrowed from MAM’s collection for the national tour, which included stops at the National Museum of the American Indian, Heard Museum, Dayton Art Institute, Kalamazoo Institute of Arts, and Gilcrease Art Museum and will conclude at the Montclair Art Museum. “Much of WalkingStick’s work deals with dualities in contemporary life and she often uses diptychs as a way of unifying this duality,” said Gail Stavitsky, MAM chief curator. “In Night, the two portions represent two kinds of knowledge of the earth. One is visual, a memory of a stream bed near Tucson, Arizona, and the other is more spiritual.”
The presentation at the Montclair Art Museum spans several galleries, located on either side of the Museum’s well-known, permanent installation of works by George Inness. WalkingStick reflected, “I am a great admirer of George Inness and his work will serve as an introduction to my late paintings. In fact, I see myself as part of the long tradition of American landscape painters including Asher B. Durand, Albert Bierstadt, Thomas Moran, and George Inness. In their work, especially Inness’ paintings of Montclair, there is a sense of his closeness to home. I am from the tristate area and I love New Jersey’s landscape. I see this area as our place.”
The exhibition is co-curated by NMAI curator Kathleen Ash-Milby (Navajo) and associate director David W. Penney, in close collaboration with the artist. The exhibition’s presentation at the Montclair Art Museum is coordinated by Gail Stavitsky, MAM’s chief curator.
The Vance Wall Art Education Center at MAM will present a series of programs and art classes for all ages in conjunction with the special exhibition Kay WalkingStick: An American Artist. Offerings include:
- Studio Explorers: Places and Traces is this season's themed class for MAM's youngest artists (ages 4–8). Inspired by the work of renowned Native American artist Kay WalkingStick, students will explore the places where we live and the traces of those who have come before us. The class is offered in several sessions starting January 8.
- Exploring Kay WalkingStick in Watercolor, an adult art class on Thursdays starting January 11, visits WalkingStick's exhibition and interprets discoveries to apply in watercolor.
- Linocuts Explored through Native American Design, an adult art workshop on Sunday, February 4, teaches the process of making a linoleum print from studying the design patterns in Kay WalkingStick: An American Artist and the Museum's Rand Gallery of Native American Art.
- Parent/Child Gilded Valentines, an art workshop on Saturday, February 10, uses gold leaf gilding techniques as seen in the paintings of Kay WalkingStick to create one-of-a-kind valentines.
- Parent/Child Diptychs, an art workshop on Saturday, March 10, creates mixed media landscapes in the diptych style of Kay WalkingStick.
- 3rd Annual Gaelen Family Artist Lecture on Thursday, April 26 will highlight artist Kay WalkingStick in conversation with curator Kathleen Ash-Milby.
Additional programs may be added; for more information, please visit montclairartmuseum.org.
About the Artist
Kay WalkingStick (Cherokee, b. 1935) is an acclaimed artist best known for painting. She received her BFA from Beaver College (now Arcadia University) and MFA at Pratt Institute, supported by a Danforth Foundation Graduate Fellowship for Women. Her first solo exhibition in New York City was in 1969. She has since exhibited her work in more than 30 groundbreaking solo exhibitions and numerous group exhibitions nationally and internationally, culminating in the major traveling retrospective Kay WalkingStick: An American Artist. She was also the first Native American artist to appear in H.W. Janson’s “History of Art” (Fifth Edition, 1995).
WalkingStick has a rich history with the Montclair Art Museum, serving as an instructor in MAM’s art school from 1986 to 1988 and as a Museum trustee from 2006 to 2010. Her painting Night/ᎤᎡᎢ (Usvi) (1991) was featured in the exhibition Waxing Poetic Encaustic Art in America in 1999 and she was featured in a site-specific installation in the Museum’s Laurie Art Stairway titled American Abstraction: Dialogue with the Cosmos from January 2008 to February 2009. WalkingStick has donated to the Museum’s collection prints by other Native American artists including Jaune Quick-to-See Smith, Joe Feddersen, and Melanie Andrew Yazzie.
WalkingStick’s work is represented in the collections of several museums, including the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian, the National Gallery of Canada, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the Montclair Art Museum. She has received many awards, including grants from the Pollock-Krasner Foundation, the Joan Mitchell Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts and the Eiteljorg Fellowship for Native American Fine Art (2003). She is a faculty emerita at Cornell University where she was a professor in the Department of Art, retiring in 2005. Currently she resides with her husband in Easton, Penn.
The exhibition is organized chronologically around themes that mark WalkingStick’s artistic journey:
- The Sensual Body: Early 1970s: While living and working in New Jersey, Kay WalkingStick benefited from the dynamic and edgy art-world developments of nearby New York City. The paintings’ details characterize minimalist modern painting of that moment: the large size, the reduction of form to flat silhouettes, the hard edges between areas of color and the brilliant neon palette. The nudes (most of them self-portraits) reflect the era’s newly liberated female sexuality and WalkingStick’s explorations of her artistic identity as a female painter in a male-dominated profession.
- Material and Meaning: 1974–85: While WalkingStick pursued a graduate degree at the Pratt Institute in New York City, she explored the function of paintings as objects rather than simply as pictures of something else. She abandoned the human figure and worked with basic forms, often arcs or curves derived from the shape of draped cloth. WalkingStick’s artistic process was complicated, almost ritual. Many of her works at this time also pay homage to Native American leaders and reflect her exploration of Native history.
- Two Views: Diptychs: In the mid-1980s, WalkingStick began to combine images of landscapes inspired by her home and travels with abstractions in what would become her signature format: two square, side-by-side paintings called diptychs. The diptych helped her express spiritual themes. Painted with her hands, the landscapes signified what she called “snapshot’ memories, while the abstract panels represented deeper, “mythic” memory. When combined, the two panels express different but complementary kinds of knowledge: external sensory perception of the material world on one side, and internal spiritual comprehension on the other.
- Landscape: The Power of Native Place: The relationship between Native people and the land has long been a source of fascination for WalkingStick. She has often used her landscape paintings to connect with the resonance of traumatic historical events or to understand the relationship between a place and its identity as a Native homeland. By incorporating designs made by the Native artists of each region, she ties Native identity to specific landscapes. Early American landscape painting traditions cast these iconic terrains as a foundation for the advance of American empire. WalkingStick reclaims these landscapes and instills them with the Native identity that the early painting traditions had largely erased.
- Heroic Landscapes: WalkingStick’s most recent paintings from 2012 to the present still adhere to the horizontal diptych format, but she now allows her representational imagery to spill entirely across both panels. Rather than separating the abstract designs that link these places to the Native people who have inhabited them, her patterns now float across the entire diptych surface, foregrounding an inseparable relationship.
New Mexico Desert, 2011
Oil on wood panel
40 x 80 x 2 in.
Purchased through a special gift from the Louise Ann Williams Endowment, 2013. National Museum of the American Indian 26/9250
Courtesy American Federation of Arts