Published: February 14, 2006
“Arctic Transformations: The Jewelry of Denise and Samuel Wallace,” a 25-year retrospective of the intricate sculptural jewelry created by the artists that includes some 150 pieces will be on view at the National Museum of American Indian March 2-July 23.
Using silver, gold, fossil ivory and semiprecious stones, the elaborate pieces refer to the ancient traditions of Denise’s Chugach Aleut heritage, as well as contemporary sources and current events. A full color volume on the Wallace’s work accompanies the exhibit; there will be a book signing and reception for the artists on Thursday, March 9, at 5:30 pm at the museum.
The exhibition will include 16 of the Wallace’s elaborate belts – many created early in their career. “Killer Whale Belt 1984” was the first work created by the Wallaces to depict Alaskan themes through the silver and stone whales, each scrimshawed with bears, seals, hunters, fish and eagles. The piece won two first-place awards at the 1984 Santa Fe Indian Market.
Many belts comprise removable pieces that transform in some way, detaching for uses as pendants and earrings or brooches. “Mask Belt II 1989” features masks that open to reveal a fossil ivory inner spirit. The detailed “Yup’ik Dancer Belt” created in 1997, features ten dancers linked with ten Yup’ik masks. The arms of the lively sterling silver dancers, replete with fossil ivory and turquoise ornament, can be rotated for different expressions and their individual dance masks can be removed and worn as pendants.
The topical piece “Sea Otter Belt 1990,” created after the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill, features 12 figures crafted from fossil ivory, sterling silver, 14K gold, lapis lazuli and other materials – pays tribute to the animals affected by the spill, while exploring Native Alaskan stories of the otter’s original human form.
The couple’s works are in the permanent collections of the Anchorage Museum of History and Art, the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe and the Mingei International Museum of World Folk Art in San Diego, among others.
“Arctic Transformations” was organized by the Anchorage Museum of History and Art and curated by Roslyn Tunis. It has traveled to the International Folk Museum in San Diego and the Heard Museum in Phoenix. After closing in New York, it will appear at the Institute of American Indian Art in Santa Fe in August 2006.
The Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian’s George Gustav Heye Center is at One Bowling Green, across from Battery Park. For more information, www.americanindian.si.edu or 212-514-3700.
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