The museum is temporarily closed. Learn more.
Hearts of Our People: Audio Tour
This exhibition is a tribute to all Native women artists, families, and nations throughout all time and space. It is their minds, hearts, and hands that have birthed their worlds, and this exhibition, into being.“Hearts of Our People” began with a question: Why do Native women make art? We chose to respond within three core themes: Legacy, Relationships, and Power.
Legacy provides for the transmission of knowledge and skills from one generation to the next and is intrinsic to the artistic process of Native women. Legacy offers intergenerational continuity. It encapsulates the past, present, and future. It interconnects aesthetics and knowledge systems—ways of understanding the mutual links between one’s existence and the world specific to each Native nation— transcending time and place.
Native women’s work keeps alive important techniques, aesthetic principles, and social protocols; it is steeped in Native modes of thinking, acting, and being. Because of legacy, artistic patterns and techniques can be faithfully re-created for all time. But legacy also allows artists to change, adapt, re-form, and reimagine art forms. Each artwork in this exhibition demonstrates the continuity and resilience of legacy.
Cherish Parrish (Ottawa/Pottawatomi)
For Cherish Parrish, weaving is “a generational gift that needs to be passed on and . . . nothing . . . speaks to that quite like pregnancy and motherhood.”
Joyce Growing Thunder Fogarty (Dakhóta/Nakoda)
The women of the Growing Thunder family embody the intergenerational continuity of their artistic tradition. Joyce (grandmother), Juanita (daughter), and Jessa Rae (granddaughter) Growing Thunder are three generations of highly accomplished, well-respected, and prolific bead and quill artists.
Cara Romero (Chemehuevi)
Cara Romero collaborated with her model, Kaa Folwell, an artist from a renowned family of Santa Clara potters, to develop this image that personifies the spirit “Clay Lady.” Clay Lady provides Tewa potters with clay.
Dyani White Hawk (Sičháŋǧu Lakota)
Dyani White Hawk combines her love of Native abstraction, like that found in painted rawhide containers and objects decorated with porcupine quills, with her admiration of non-Native abstract art to create paintings that broaden the perception of Native art.
Edmonia Lewis (Mississauga and African American)
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s poem “The Song of Hiawatha” inspired Edmonia Lewis to carve The Old Arrow Maker.
In Native worldviews, the ability to create life holds sacred power; women, therefore, are considered inherently powerful. The power held by Native women among their own people is spiritual, social, and political. It is contained in knowledge that is both shared and withheld. Native women artists, through their creations born of self-expression, hold power within and outside their nations.
Women’s personal power is expressed in the values of honor, grace, and balance. These values include the belief that to be honored is to honor others; respect must be given to the ones who came before and the ones who come after. In order to be truly human is to show generosity through gift giving and hospitality, to be grateful for all things, and to live in harmony with the world by striving for balance.
Roxanne Swentzell (Santa Clara Pueblo)
Roxanne Swentzell describes her sculptures as a kind of three-dimensional journal because they are always related to something going on in her life.
Iakonikohnrio Tonia Loran-Galban (Mohawk, Bear clan Akwesasne)
This is a precise re-creation of the “Woman’s Nomination Belt,” a document authorizing the clan mother to nominate and guide the male leaders of her clan and the Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) Confederacy. The original is still in use today; it is one of the most important wampum belts in Haudenosaunee and U.S. history.
Mimbres artists, Sherds and bowl
The majority of Mimbres pottery displayed in museums is unearthed from burial sites and taken from the deceased. Out of respect to all visitors, Mia chooses not to display objects found in Native burials.
Hohokam artist, Bowl
Swirls of concentric circles adorn this pot made by a Hohokam female artist a thousand years ago. The Hohokam people lived in the desert Southwest, in an area that includes modern-day Phoenix. They created miles of sophisticated canals to irrigate their crops.
Lakota artist, Dress
Shrouded in mystery, this dress was probably made for a Lakota woman to remember her relatives as she danced. On the back yoke is the name Waƞblítipi Wiƞ (Where Eagle Dwells Woman). It refers to Cora Plenty Eagles, who died at about age 16; the name Kiƞyánhinape Wiƞ (Comes Out Flying Woman) is for Katie Loafer Joe, who died at age 18.
Anita Fields (Osage)
Osage women began wearing U.S. military coats as wedding garments in the 1700s or earlier. The coats were diplomatic gifts to the Osage men from high-ranking U.S. government officials, but they were too small.
The theme of relationships aligns with the Indigenous concept of connectivity and reciprocity. Everything in the world—people, animals, plants, places, and living and nonliving elements—is interconnected. Vast webs connect Native people, the physical and metaphysical worlds, and time and space.
Relationships also involve collaboration among generations, genders, materials, and nations. In Native worldviews, all beings engage in acts of reciprocity in order to maintain balance. This reciprocity requires humans to take responsibility for these relationships, and part of this responsibility is protecting and providing for others. Creating works of art, in part, protects and provides for the physical, emotional, and spiritual well-being of others.
Ramona Sakiestewa (Hopi)
Ramona Sakiestewa’s sophisticated use of tapestry weaving, an enduring tradition of her Hopi community, was inspired by images from the Hubble Space Telescope.
Kelly Church (Ottawa/Pottawatomi)
The green in this basket represents the emerald ash borer. This beautiful insect has destroyed ash trees, essential to making ash baskets, throughout the Upper Midwest.
Shelley Niro (Bay of Quinte Mohawk, Six Nations Turtle clan)
This mixed-media installation represents the four main stages of women in Haudenosaunee life: a young girl, a teenager, a middle-aged woman, and an elder.
Susie Santiago Billy (Pomo)
These two feathered baskets are from two generations of the same family: contemporary artist Susan Billy and her grandmother Susie Santiago Billy. For many Pomo women, baskets have often served as a kind of currency.
Elsie Allen (Pomo) & Susan Billy (Hopland Band of Pomo Indians)
One of these miniature baskets was made by contemporary artist Susan Billy, and the other was made by her great-aunt Elsie Allen, who taught Billy to make baskets. Billy resisted learning the beaded-basket technique because she wanted to focus on more traditional forms.
Jolene Rickard (Tuscarora)
This artwork includes beaded birds made by Haudenosaunee women, which Jolene Rickard has collected for 50 years. Rickard says she “juxtaposed them against a stark taxidermy image of the extinct passenger pigeon that was hunted to extinction at contact [with Euro-Americans]. . . . at early contact the sky would go dark from the vast flocks of pigeon overhead.”