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Telling Stories

September 5, 2019
children sitting in front of pictures on a wall
Children seated in front of Julie Buffalohead (Ponca, b. 1972), Straight Legs, 2018, oil on canvas, 53 x 128 inches, 2019.3, purchased with funds from Anne Alexander, Marial Bulmer, Roy and Caryl Cline, Paul Flesher and Caroline McCracken-Flesher, Pilar Flores, Kenneth Gerow, Mary Horton, Debra Littlesun, Leonard and Paula Lutz, Tim and Laurie Nichols, Anthony Ogden, Felicia Resor, Sue Sommers, Marianne Eileen Wardle, and the Ron and Patti Salvagio Endowment for Art Museum Programs, and the Patricia R. Guthrie Special Exhibitions Gallery Endowment.

Diverse works help the UW Art Museum serve its mission.

By Marianne Eileen Wardle, Director

Julie Buffalohead, a Native American artist who lives and works in Minnesota, is a member of the Ponca Tribe of Oklahoma. Raised by a Native American father and a white anthropologist mother, she has deep interest in cultural storytelling. Although her style is contemporary, her subject matter draws on Native American tales and myths that explore deeply human concerns featuring animals as protagonists.

Rather than recounting known stories in her work, however, she constructs imaginative and ambiguous scenes that provoke viewers to create meaning for themselves. The painting Straight Legs reflects Buffalohead’s identification as both deer (her clan is the Elk or Deer clan) and coyote, the trickster. In this painting, a coyote/woman wearing black high-heels lounges on an antique iron bed, smiling slightly. Is she daydreaming a life in the misty wilderness that appears behind her? Is she imagining the taste of deer? What does the title Straight Legs mean?

A hawk, possibly representing the artist’s great-great-grandmother’s clan, observes as deer and coyote study each other. Is this an encounter between past and future selves? Is there tension between a playful predator and its usual prey? The work prompts us to think of stories, histories and the way we invent and reinvent our own identities.

Not only is Straight Legs high quality and beautiful, executed by an artist whose reputation is on the rise, but it will also be extremely valuable in the teaching and outreach mission of the University of Wyoming Art Museum. The Art Museum has a new mission statement: collecting, exhibiting, and interpreting art to inspire creativity and lifelong learning for the people of Wyoming. We believe strongly in our mission to make art available and accessible to all. This painting has already made an impact. Our first session of summer camp for 6- to 10-year-olds recently explored storytelling through the vehicle of Straight Legs. The stories they wrote were funny, creative and dramatic—reflecting concerns about friendship, being left out, social status, misunderstandings and apologies making everything right in the world. These are all concerns very relevant to children but also relevant for most adults. This is exactly what the Art Museum is about—creating opportunities, through art, that will engage minds and touch hearts.

This painting adds Native American representation to our strong and growing collection of art by contemporary women artists. Purchased with funds from private donors and museum endowments, the work honors the service of previous UW President Laurie Nichols and Professor Tim Nichols. President Nichols championed increased inclusion and enrollment of Native American students on campus, and Professor Nichols served on the Art Museum Board while teaching in the Honors College. The Nicholses have served as the Art Museum gala hosts twice and each year generously supported the Annual Juried Student Exhibition with personal purchase awards.

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