A Sampler of Native American Works

For nearly a decade, Ralph T. Coe traveled across North America in search of contemporary American Indian art. Collecting baskets, bead work, weavings and much more from 120 tribes, he ended a journey that began in 1977 convinced of one thing.

“A viable traditional American Indian art most certainly does exist today,” Coe said recently. “Because of the white man’s encroachment on Indian lands and the usurpation of Indian ways, we assume the Indian people have lost their culture. It really isn’t true. Their sense of tradition and of their own history has remained a lot stronger than we think.”

Endeavoring to prove that, Coe organized “Lost and Found Traditions: Native American Art 1965-1985,” Saturday through Dec. 11 at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County.

The exhibit contains 383 objects including pottery, textiles, musical instruments, jewelry, dolls and tools made by 275 contemporary artists. Displayed side by side are archetypal pieces, such as a Cheyenne war bonnet made of eagle plumes and modernized works, such as a pair of sneakers elaborately beaded by a Sioux.


“White people use words like dilution to describe Native American culture,” said Coe, former director of Missouri’s Nelson Atkins Museum of Art. “But they should be using addition .”

Indeed, while preserving their own traditions and techniques, he explained, “Indian people have taken tremendous advantage of the white man’s materials,” whether that be glass beads brought from Venice in the 19th Century, or the latest in high tech.

“I’ve been to a powwow and seen traditional Indian drums being recorded on elaborate Japanese equipment,” Coe said. “To me that’s not as much a contradiction as an outsider might think. Then, there’s an Apache fiddle in show. The same man that made it later came up with an electronic fiddle. In many ways, innovation has always been a part of tradition.”

While the works in “Lost and Found” represent many major American Indian tribes, at least 80 more exist, Coe said.

“This exhibit just a sampler. It’s like a piece of tape cut out of a continuum. I’m still collecting. I can’t stop! It’s like a disease.”

Recent Acquisitions

The J. Paul Getty Museum has recently added to its painting, decorative arts and manuscripts collections. An oil portrait of Pope Gregory XV by Giovanni Francesco Barbieri (1591-1666) sensitively depicts the ailing, aged pontiff. A pair of delicate torchieres, designed to carry candelabra, are attributed to Andre-Charles Boulle (1642-1732). A detailed manuscript illumination of St. Bernard’s Vision of the Virgin and Child, attributed to Simon Marmion (circa 1420-1489), represents a legend about a 12th-Century French abbot.

On the Block


Los Angeles Contemporary Exhibitions will host its ninth annual Benefit Art Auction on Oct. 29. Works by more than 130 contemporary artists to be sold off will be on view at LACE from Oct. 21 to 28. Reservations may be made by sending $50 per person to LACE, 1804 Industrial Ave., Los Angeles 90021. Each tax-deductible $50 contribution will cover dinner and a no-host bar and reserve one bidding number. All funds raised will be used for LACE programs.

Schiele Reissue

Nudes, portraits, allegories and landscapes by Viennese artist Egon Schiele are brought to life with 65 color plates in “The Art of Egon Schiele” ($50, 268 pages), to be reissued after a decade next month by Hudson Hills Press. Curator Erwin Mitsch supplies a biography with black-and-white photographs of the artist and an insightful introduction.