Art is fundamentally personal — for the artist as well as everyone who applies their own experience and interpretation to the work. When it comes to the exhibition debuting at Solana Beach’s EC Gallery on November 6, no one understands that more than gallery owner Ruth-Ann Thorn.
Featured throughout November in honor of Native American Heritage Month, A Celebration of Native American Artists pays tribute to art reflecting an ancestry shared by none other than Thorn herself, a member of the local Rincon Band of Luiseño Indians. The collection that’s a full year in the making documents the Native American experience primarily through sculpture and paintings from artists representing tribes throughout the U.S. including George Rivera, Raymond Nordwall, LX Lewis, Nacona Burgess, Jeremy Salazar, and Roxanne Swentzell. Rivera will make exclusive appearances at the gallery November 6, from 3-8pm and November 7, from 12-3pm. Also present will be internationally-renowned jewelry artist Cody Sanderson, who’ll be on hand to accompany a trunk show of his acclaimed silver fine jewelry.
Growing up on the Rincon reservation, Thorn says, “You were almost ashamed to be Native American, even with my generation. There was such poverty even here in San Diego on the reservation that it wasn’t until we started gaming and having the ability to have resources that you started to feel kind of a sense of pride.” She explains that with that pride came the courage to explore their own heritage and rediscover their history which, for centuries, had been pushed to the point of nearly being lost in an effort to assimilate and sanitize them of their ancient traditions. “The good news is that when you do have that economic base, not only does it provide the basic living, education, and health services, but it also allows for tribes to start spending money on understanding their culture,” she says, citing art as a significant catalyst for the renaissance. “We’re just really starting to understand who we are, where we’ve come from…and a lot of that comes through art and culture because sometimes a piece of artwork will talk about something that maybe is a hard thing to discuss.”
Thorn says that the indomitable Native American spirit is what has helped them persevere and ultimately remove that stigma that she feels so long hindered them from honoring and preserving their identity. “I think it’s just letting go of that generational trauma, the fear, and knowing that now, here we are. ‘We’re still here.’ You’ll hear that a lot in Indian Country. That’s kind of a mantra that’s spoken a lot amongst all the tribes,” she says. “So now, I think there’s a lot more freedom of expression, and I think that this generation, even my generation and younger, we are craving to know where we came from. That comes in the storytelling and [through] these artists, whether they’re painters or sculptors or even musicians, telling the story through those giftings that they have. Some of them have been passed down, but some are being reinterpreted by the people who are living now and building upon the past and using symbols and different ideas. Some are more modern within their art form to let people know who we are as a native people.”
“It’s just really almost an awakening now, and with a lot of focus being put on native issues that were never talked about before,” she continues. “In the ’80s it was a decorative movement, but now we’re getting beyond that and we’re really wanting to make more of a statement that the artwork isn’t about decorating, it’s about the plight of people [and] their homeland, here on this continent for 14,000 years. And now, we’re starting to see this next generation telling the story through the arts, so it’s really awesome.”
Ultimately, Thorn sees this resurgence of Native American art as yet another example of how art acts as the ultimate looking glass into our world.
Ultimately, Thorn sees this resurgence of Native American art as yet another example of how art acts as the ultimate looking glass into our world. “If you want to have a pulse on what’s happening in society, look at the arts, because the arts will always cut through all of the politics, all the social commentary, and you’re really going to see what’s coming out in the creativity because the creativity is always the heart of the society,” she says. “The art is always what rises to the top and that’s what people look at when they look back at history: what was created in the name of music, literature, the arts, and architecture. That’s what we reflect on as a society because that what we really feel was valuable.”
The collection features more than 40 pieces, with select works on display at the gallery and the entire collection available for viewing online. Many of the artists exhibiting are also featured in multiple episodes in the online docuseries hosted by Thorn, Art of the City TV, which was a sponsor of Sante Fe, New Mexico’s 2020 Indian Market in August. All are available for acquisition. Deanna Murphy