Native American Art of New York on view at Dorsky Museum in New Paltz

Jeremy Dennis, Nothing Happened Here #2, 2016, c-print, courtesy the New York State Museum

Do you experience a sense of pride and engagement in the knowledge that New York State has a deep and rich history? How often do you let that extend to this region’s indigenous peoples, who were here a whole lot longer? They may not have left written records, and those who survived the impact of European colonization may have been mostly displaced, but they are not “gone.” Their imprint is on these lands. Every time you drive Route 209, you are following a well-trodden trail blazed by Native people to connect their northern and southern territories.

What we know about these literally pre-historic dwellers on the land we now occupy is largely captured in objects made for everyday use, in which no line is drawn between beauty and utility. The New York State Museum (NYSM) in Albany is a major repository of such artifacts. And since 1996, NYSM has been making a point of also collecting contemporary art made by Native American communities in New York State, closing the temporal circle and reminding us all that descendants of the original stewards of these lands still live among us, largely unrecognized, and are still making beautiful things.

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“Community and Continuity: Native American Art of New York” is the title of a new exhibition at the Samuel Dorsky Museum of Art at SUNY-New Paltz. It connects the past with the present, featuring selections from NYSM’s collections of contemporary Native American art and archaeological artifacts, plus objects from Historic Huguenot Street. The exhibit will be on display from August 29 through December 9 in the Dorsky’s Sara Bedrick Gallery. A public opening reception will be held on Saturday, September 15, from 5 to 7 p.m.

Curated by NYSM’s Gwendolyn Saul and John P. Hart to showcase the diversity of Native American creative output and exemplify the state’s thriving, vibrant and continuous Indigenous presence, “Community and Continuity” will feature contemporary art that incorporates subject matter based on the epic narrative of the Creation Story, Algonquian histories and commentary on what it means to be Indigenous today, expressed through a variety of media including photography, painting, sculpture, beadwork and basketry. Complementing the contemporary artworks will be a selection of artifacts of fired clay, bone and shell dating from the 15th to the 17th century.

Contemporary artists featured in this exhibition include Shelley Niro, Dawn Dark Mountain, Tammy Tarbell-Boehning, Jeremy Dennis, Luanne Redeye, Bruce Boots, Carson Waterman, Towanna Miller, Peter Jones, Diane Schenandoah, Roger Perkins, William V. Wilson, Gail Tremblay, Salli Benedict, David Bunn Martine, Ronni-Leigh, Sue Ellen Herne, Brenda Hill, John Fadden, Carrie Hill, Rosemary Hill, Ann Mitchell, Sam Thomas, Jay Havens and Karen Ann Hoffman. 

Centrally located on the SUNY-New Paltz campus, the Dorsky Museum is open to the public Wednesday through Sunday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. except during school holidays and intersessions. For more information, visit www.newpaltz.edu/museum or call (845) 257-3844.

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