[Dis]information

Definition of disinformation:

False information deliberately and often covertly spread, in order to influence public opinion or obscure the truth (according to Merriam Webster’s online dictionary).

What thoughts go through your mind when viewing these photographs? Do you find them beautiful? Interesting and intriguing? Romantic and dreamy? Peaceful and serene?

How about stylized and stilted?

All of these impressions might coexist when looking at portraits of Native Americans, taken by photographer Roland Reed (1864-1934) at the beginning of the 20th century. He was genuinely interested in American Indians, even living with and photographing the Ojibwe on their Minnesota reservation for two years, but his pictorialist style of photography interpreted his subjects in a certain way, by staging scenes with props and artifice, rather than documenting their actual lives and reality.

Roland Reed’s idealized art represents the core of a seminal and challenging exhibit, “[Dis]information,” which opened at the Colorado Springs Pioneers Museum in the spring of 2019. Co-curated by Native American Gregg Deal, a member of the Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe, and by Leah Davis Witherow, the museum’s Curator of History, it attempts to raise awareness of how Native Americans were depicted through a white lens, how these photographs presented a version of native life that no longer existed, by pigeonholing the people portrayed, and by implying that they were part of America’s past, and not of its present, or its future. With this problematic characterization American Indians take issue, as they are very much alive and part of America today. While Roland Reed might have been well-intentioned, his oeuvre is yet one more bitterly ironic example of the way in which the same nation, that killed or confined the First Americans on reservations, began to romanticize them not long after expelling them from their ancestral lands.

Photojournalist Viki Eagle’s portraits of American Indian students at University of Denver

In contrast to Roland Reed’s problematic images, Native American photographer, Vicki Eagle, presents fellow Native Americans, all of them students at Denver University, in the manner of their choosing, without artificial setting or attire. Each portrait is accompanied by a short biographical sketch, each poignant in its own right. I have chosen to share two.

Alexis writes: “I attend the University of Denver, where the mascot is the ‘Pioneers’ and the founder is John Evans [former Governor of Colorado Territory, and responsible for the 1864 Sand Creek Massacre, in which hundreds of peaceful American Indians were killed by Colorado militia in cold blood, despite having been assured protection]. Every day I see the words ‘Pioneers’ and 1864 plastered everywhere. Seeing these things is a constant reminder that I am not meant to be on this campus. Instead of letting it bring me down, I stay resilient and ensure that I make my mark on campus. I am not afraid or ashamed to embrace my Native identity because I know every day I walk on campus I am breaking the stereotype and making my family, community and tribe proud.”

Taylor says: “ I’m sure I made John Evans, founder of the University of Denver, turn in his grave knowing that an indigenous female is thriving in this institution. Being a Pueblo woman, I have defied all the odds just being here in college. The statistics will say that I’m a drug addict, an alcoholic, dropout, victim of abuse, missing, and even murdered. I’m blessed to say I’m NONE of those things. I am thankful to receive education and the opportunities it has given me for a better future, so that I can go back home and give back to my people. I am my ancestors’ wildest dreams. Sincerely, A Future Native Female Lawyer in the making.”

Wet-plate photographs of Northern Plains Native Americans by North Dakota photographer Shane Balkowitsch

A collection of wet-plate images completes the exhibit. Self-taught North Dakota artist Shane Balkowitsch, with his project Northern Plains Native Americans: A Modern Wet Plate Perspective, aspires to obtain portraits of 1.000 Native Americans. As with Vicki Eagle, his models choose in which way they want to be depicted, many of them opting for traditional apparel.

Native American Nations, circa 1590 through 1850 (pre-reservation period).

Native American land holdings today, representing about 3% of the contiguous United States.

Despite repeated attempts to integrate and assimilate indigenous Americans and to eradicate their native language and traditions, and despite the near-complete loss of their homelands, many American Indians continue to cherish and celebrate their legacy and heritage. 573 federally recognized tribes exist in the United States as of 2019. About 2.9 million individuals identify as American Indian or Alaska Native alone, and 2.3 million do so in combination with one or two more races (2010 US Census data). Most live off reservations and are our friends, our colleagues, and our neighbors. The portrayal of Native Americans in still and moving pictures, in commercials, and as sports mascots has engendered hard-to-break stereotypes and prejudice in the American psyche, but Native America and Native Americans are infinitely more complex than Hollywood ever allowed, and have their own version of history to tell.

Whimsical Birds

Ornithophilia seems to be as old as human consciousness itself. Ever since we have had the faculty to wrap our thoughts into words, we have expressed our fascination and even love for creatures who are in their element not only on land, but also in the water and sky. Their presence across a vast range of habitats, their ability to take to the air, their myriad shades, shapes, and sizes, as well as their nearly preternatural gift to create sublime sounds have made them the favored subjects not only of composers, poets, and painters, but of sculptors alike.

Here are some of their whimsical bird creations I have been touched by.

Ornithophilie scheint so alt zu sein wie das menschliche Bewußtsein. Seit wir das Vermögen erwarben, unsere Gedanken in Worte zu fassen, haben wir unsere Faszination, wenn nicht sogar Liebe, für Kreaturen ausgedrückt, die nicht nur auf dem Land, sondern auch im Wasser und im Himmel in ihrem Element sind. Ihre Präsenz in einer Reihe von Lebensräumen, ihre Fähigkeit, sich in die Lüfte zu schwingen, ihre zahlreichen Farben, Formen, und Formate sowie ihre schier übernatürliche Gabe, unvergleichliche Töne hervorzubringen, hat sie nicht nur zu Lieblingen von Komponisten, Dichtern und Malern, sondern auch von Plastikern gemacht.

Hier sind einige ihrer skurrilen Vogelkreationen, die mich berührt haben.

To enlarge a photo, click on it. 

Zum Vergrößern, das Bild bitte anklicken. 

More Mural Magic-Part 1

I have come across such a profusion of murals this past year, I will dedicate an occasional post to them. Each will be introduced by the featured photo above, which also depicts a mural from a local coffee shop, and offers an interpretation of the Colorado State flag, shown here:

Im vergangenen Jahr bin ich einer solchen Vielzahl an Wandmalereien begegnet, daß ich ihnen von Zeit zu Zeit einen Beitrag widmen werde. Ich werde jeden mit dem obigen Bild einleiten, das übrigens auch ein Gemälde von der Außenwand einer hiesigen Kaffeestube darstellt, und die Flagge Colorados interpretiert, die hier gezeigt wird:

The two horizontal blue bars represent Colorado’s blue sky, the white bar its many snowcapped mountains. The red “C” stands for our state’s ruddy soil, and the central golden globe for our many days of sunshine, averaging more than 300/year.

Die zwei blauen horizontalen Balken repräsentieren Colorados blauen Himmel, der weiße die schneebedeckten Berge. Das rote „C“ steht für die rote Erde unseres Staates, die goldene Kugel in seinem Zentrum für unsere vielen Sonnentage, im Durchschnitt über 300 Tage/Jahr.

Today’s post celebrates Colorado’s fauna, ranging from definitely extinct to nearly extinct. While humankind can’t be blamed for the disappearance of dinosaurs, we do carry the burden of nearly having eradicated the American bison. Fortunately, the species could be saved, but others were not so fortunate. The responsibility to protect and preserve animals and their habitats rests on our shoulders. For their sakes, and ours, may they continue to thrive, so that we can admire them in their natural surroundings, and not simply in zoos, or murals, for that matter.

Der heutige Beitrag feiert Colorados Fauna, inklusive ausgestorbener und einst bedrohter Arten. Obwohl die Menschheit nicht für das Verschwinden der Dinosaurier verantwortlich ist, tragen wir die Bürde, die nordamerikanischen Büffel fast ausgerottet zu haben. Glücklicherweise konnten sie gerettet werden, doch andere hatten weniger Glück. Die Verantwortung, Tiere sowie ihren Lebensraum zu schützen ruht auf unseren Schultern. Hoffen wir, daß sie weiterhin gedeihen, um ihret- und  unsertwillen, so daß wir sie nicht nur in Zoos oder Wandgemälden bewundern können, sondern in freier Wildbahn.

Glassy Surprises

Colorado Springs‘ Fine Arts Center had long been on my „must see“ list, and when it offered free visitation in March, I finally filled this glaring gap in my education. I wanted to explore at least two exhibits, one permanent, the other temporary, but otherwise had no preconceived notions. Incidentally, the museum will celebrate its centenary throughout this year, having originated as the Broadmoor Arts Academy in 1919.

Immediately upon entering the lobby, my attention was riveted by the Medusa-like light fixture featured above, but the title Chihuly Chandelier didn’t mean anything to me. Later, when I strolled into a darkened gallery highlighted and illuminated by an array of additional glass art, I learned about world-renowned (where have I been?) American glass artist, Dale Chihuly (born 1941), whose designs have dazzled viewers everywhere. They certainly dazzled me, and I became an instant fan. Additional research revealed that a 1976 accident resulted in blindness in the artist’s left eye. The associated loss of depth perception and a subsequent shoulder dislocation both affected his ability to blow glass, and forced him to limit himself to designing, rather than fashioning his art. According to a quote on Wikipedia, Chihuly describes his role as “more choreographer than dancer, more supervisor than participant, more director than actor.”

The Persian Wall Installation was arranged by the artist in 2006 and emulates some of the oldest surviving ancient glasswork from the Persian Empire of the 5th and 4th centuries BC. Concentric circles in contrasting colors captivate and charm.

Macchias are glass bowls characterized by spots (macchia is Italian for spot, from Latin macula). Countless color combinations make each one of these calyx-like structures unique, and assorted varieties resting on pedestals form so-called macchia forests.

The focal point of the room was the Orange Hornet Chandelier, composed of 384 pieces, which add up to a weight of 1200 pounds. In addition to hornets, it reminded me of ristras (from Latin restis, for rope or cord), decorative strings of red chili peppers popular in the American Southwest. The ponderous taper, first installed in Venice in 1993 as a smaller incarnation, had additional elements added specifically for the Fine Arts Center, to commemorate its 2007 reopening after a major expansion.

For the same occasion, the museum’s café was adorned with a third luster, the Gilded Blue Sapphire Chandelier, a cerulean dream with golden touches.

My outing reminded me that chance meetings are often the best. Encountering Chihuly’s creations was a wonderful surprise, and in this instance my ignorance was indeed my bliss.

Mural Magic

While I have never stayed as an overnight guest at our local 5-star Broadmoor Hotel, which celebrated its 100th birthday in 2018, I occasionally treat myself to coffee and cake in one of its cafés. This pretext enables me to walk the tastefully-landscaped grounds, to enjoy views of nearby Cheyenne Mountain, and to admire a graceful pair of Mute Swans in the property’s central lake. The establishment is known for the artwork that adorns the interior and ambling through its corridors is like walking through a museum. Paintings and statues celebrate the history of the American West and make it easy to while away hours.

Obwohl ich noch nie in unserem hiesigen Fünfsternehotel “Broadmoor”, das 2018 sein 100-jähriges Jubiläum feierte, übernachtet habe, verwöhne ich mich gelegentlich mit Kaffee und Kuchen in einem seiner Cafés. Dieser Vorwand ermöglicht es mir, durch die geschmackvoll gestaltete Gartenanlage zu spazieren, die Sicht auf den nahegelegenen Berg, Cheyenne Mountain, zu genießen, und ein graziles Schwanenpaar auf dem zentral gelegenen See zu bewundern. Das Etablissement ist für seine Kunstsammlung bekannt, und durch seine inneren Hallen zu wandeln, ähnelt einem Besuch in einer Kunstgalerie. Gemälde und Plastiken feiern die Geschichte des amerikanischen Westens, und lassen Stunden wie im Fluge vergehen.

To enlarge a photo, click on it. To read its caption, hover cursor over it.

Zum Vergrößern, das Bild bitte anklicken. Um den Titel zu lesen, mit der Maus darüber schweben.

I never visit without directing my steps to a cozy corner whose walls are beautified by a delightful mural. Examples of our regional flora are exquisitely and lovingly rendered, and while I feast on the colorful blossoms, a number of winged creatures do the same in their own way.

Meine Ausflüge dorthin sind ohne das Aufsuchen einer gemütlichen, von einem wunderschönen Wandgemälde verzierten Ecke nicht komplett. Vertreter unserer hiesigen Flora werden in liebevollem Detail dargestellt, und während ich mich an den farbenprächtigen Blüten auf meine Art labe, tut es mir eine Anzahl beschwingter Kreaturen auf ihre Weise gleich.