Lenny

Next time use Google


“they couldn’t find a Native artist who did formal portrait sittings like this.”

Earlier this year James V. Grimaldi reported in the Washington Post that W. Richard West Jr., the founding director of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian, spent $48,500 in museum funds to commission a portrait of himself. Asides from the sensationalistic issue being made about the cost of the portrait (funny how reporters always try to minimize the value of the visual arts) what caught my eyes was this statement: Silverman, of Polish descent, was chosen, said Smithsonian spokeswoman Linda St. Thomas, after “they couldn’t find a Native artist who did formal portrait sittings like this.”

“The portrait of West by New York artist Burton Silverman hangs in the patrons’ lounge on the fourth floor of the flagship museum, which is dedicated to the arts and culture of American Indians. Silverman said West picked him after he saw a portrait Silverman had done of former Smithsonian secretary Robert McCormick Adams. The Adams portrait, completed about a decade earlier, was smaller and cost about half as much.”

What!

What!

What!

Are you pulling my leg?

I’m not even remotely an expert on Native American artists, but off the top of my head I can think of a couple of Washington, DC area and former DC area Native American artists who are (among other things) excellent portrait artists. One of them, Michael Clark has made a worlwide reputation for his obsessive portraiture of George Washington, and he has also done dozens and dozens of portraits of JFK, Jefferson, Jackie O and many, many portraits. He’s in the collection of a couple of DC area museums I believe.

His brother Mark (who I think used to work for the Smithsonian for God’s sakes) is also a superb artist, a brilliant trompe l’oeil painter and has done many hyper-realistic portraits as well!

They’re both of Native American descent.

But we all know by now that most DC area museum curators ignore their own backyard. But couldn’t one just pick up a phone and call some art galleries in Santa Fe or Sedona?

Or use the web? So just for fun let’s see if we can Google some Native American portrait painters:

Mike Larsen.

Johnny Lee.

Mary Anne Caibaiosai.

Karen Clarkson

Reno Moreno.

OK… some are better than others, but if in less that five minutes I can come up with half a dozen Native American artists who appear to be portrait artists, including one - Mike Larsen - a Chickasaw portrait artist who was named the 2006 Oklahoman of the Year!

Note to Kevin Gover, who took over as the Indian Museum’s director earlier this year: when it’s time for your portrait and you’re looking for a Native American portrait painter: call me!

Or learn to use Google.

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