Spirit Hawk Eye – A Celebration of American Native Culture

March 14, 2015 - Nicky Hancock

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Press Release
14 March to 1 November 2015

Spirit Hawk Eye is a special exhibition at the American Museum in Britain of portraits by photographer and Bath resident Heidi Laughton, celebrating contemporary American Indian culture. A series of portraits reveal aspects of present-day Native cultural practices and reflects ‘the traditional influences and remarkable stories and celebrates the colourful, reverent, spiritual, artistic and enduring elements of tribal communities’, – Laughton explains.

Embedding herself within the culture, Laughton photographed people of different ages and backgrounds drawn from a number of tribes, including Apache, Navajo, Comanche, Paiute, Iowa, Hopi, Zuni, and Chumash.  Her goal was to capture different facets of life and, in particular to focus on influential people who are inspirational to Native youth. The images present a mix of modern and traditional regalia, not necessarily being a true representation of the wearer’s tribe, but often an amalgamation of different tribal influences typical of today. Laughton was allowed access into many spiritual events and locations, meticulously following the required protocols. She was particularly honoured to have attended an Apache “coming of age” ceremony for a young girl at the San Carlos Apache Reservation.

Many of the participants are successful Native people who promote their heritage making the traditional ways relevant to modern lives. Laughton’s project is about their stories and the things that are important to their lives. In addition, several of the people photographed will be coming to the UK for the first time, in July, as part of an in-house residency at the American Museum, teaching the Native ways as part of the Museum’s schools programmes and providing an educational and fascinating cultural experience.

As Laughton explains, ‘I was looking to produce a photo story about Native culture that didn’t focus on the many issues facing Native people in the US today, but instead concentrating on the positive aspects of an extremely diverse and beautiful culture. I’ve always believed that the best way to engage viewers so they can relate to Natives is by focusing on personal stories. It’s these details and anecdotes, even though just a small glimpse into these diverse communities, which make the wider learnings more memorable’.

The first portrait Laughton took for the series was of Daniel Ramos, a spiritual man of Navajo and Apache descent. ‘As I got to know him, I noticed he began to call me Spirit Hawk Eye. In the same way as I subtly acquired the name, so too the Native ways and thinking were gradually converging my own thoughts in a subconscious symbiosis and the name symbolised for me an emergence of new ideas, a different way of seeing, and a metamorphosis of spirit.’

The American Heritage Galleries at the American Museum reflect the diverse history and culture of the Native Americans. Native Americans are as varied as the climates and landscapes they inhabit which in turn shape their beliefs and material culture.  Despite many years of persecution, the cultural heritage of different communities has survived to be passed down to future generations.

The American Museum owns an important collection of studio portraits by Frank A. Rinehart and Adolph F. Mühr that commemorates the 1898 Indian Congress attended by delegates from 23 different tribes.  Native American decorative arts are also featured within the collection, demonstrating how colour and linear design were incorporated into domestic objects, often reflecting external influences.  With the arrival of the Europeans, new colours and materials were incorporated and Native American craftsmen created basketry, beadwork, and pottery acclaimed for their form as well as their function.  The evolution of this art form is reflected in the displays on the lower level of the Museum. The variety of shape and texture adopted by different tribes is reflected in a colourful collection of beaded moccasins. Coming right up to date, the collection displays examples of contemporary work by modern Native artists demonstrating how they continue to explore the cultural traditions of their tribes, combining traditional media with modern techniques.

Thanks to the generous support of members of the American Museum, three of the Native Americans photographed for the Spirit Hawk Eye project will visit the Museum from 16 to 23 July 2015, providing a Native educational and cultural experience.  The group includes Sarita McGowan, enrolled tribal member of the Iowa Tribe of Kansas and Nebraska, talking about the history and culture of the Ioway and demonstrating the beautifully elegant Northern women’s traditional buckskin dance and the regalia she handcrafts herself. Comanche artist Nocona Burgess will be exploring contrasts between vivid colour and dark surfaces in a ‘Painting Outward’ workshop and Alan Salazar, of Chumash and Tataviam descent is a children’s storyteller, visionary and advisor who will give a talk about Chumash and Tataviam history. (See americanmuseum.org for further details.)

‘The images are a humble means to share, applaud and revere the richly colourful, artistic and spiritual ways of life of diverse peoples.’
Heidi Laughton

For images and further information, please contact:

Nicky Hancock, Hancock Communications

Tel: 01225 332299


Editor’s notes:-

Main Season 14 March – 1 November 2015, Tues – Sun, 12noon-5pm, Closed Mondays except during August and Bank Holidays

Admission, Museum, Exhibition and Gardens: Adults £10.00, Over 60’s & students £9.00, Children (5- 16 years) £5.50, Family ticket £27.50

Gardens only: Adults £6.00, Over 60’s & students £5.00, Children (5-16 years) £3.50

Gift Aid and Membership rates available

Tel: 01225 460503  enquiries@americanmuseum.org