Sunday, March 15, 2015

America Meredith and “First American Art”

The Inaugural issue of the new quarterly publication “First American Art” appeared in the spring of 2013.  It took a few issues before I became aware of it.  I was surprised at what a polished publication it was both from the point of view of image and content.   When you open it you do not get lost, articles are not split up but are kept neatly together.  In every issue there are several articles that focus on individual Indigenous artists in all media and a lot more.  The paper quality is thick and glossy, the print is large and clear and the photography is excellent.   America Meredith who is both publisher and editor has written, “We hope First American Art Magazine provides primary research from which to draw”.  I believe she has begun to do that and in a few years one will have a resource for an encyclopedia of Native artists.  It will become a necessary resource for any library.
I became curious as to why does someone decide that they want to start a magazine.  What is the goal?  I met with, America Meredith, a member of the Cherokee Nation, on her visit to the Ralph T. Coe Foundation.  I immediately saw this very intelligent person with an extremely high level of energy. Her questions and ideas came out on top of each other as if she would explode in a hundred different directions.  It was, frankly, sometimes difficult to keep up!

I did have one planned question and I asked America how she got her first name.  I was surprised to learn that she was named after her great-great-great, grandmother, Mary America Schrimpsher Rogers, Will Roger’s mother.  I had forgotten that the famous actor (1879-1935) known as Oklahoma’s favorite son and whose famous quote is so oft repeated, “I never met a man I dident [sic] like", was Cherokee.

Both America’s grandmothers were Swedish and both grandfathers were Cherokee.  Her parents are also both from the Cherokee Nation.  Her mother is a museum director and curator and her father is an author and professor.  She grew up in Oklahoma and is the 6th generation of Oklahoma Cherokee.  Her ancestors arrived in the early part of the 19th century before the “Trail of Tears”, the deportation of tribes from the Southeast to designated Indian territory in the West, following the law of 1830.

America received her BFA in painting from the University of Oklahoma and her MFA in painting from the San Francisco Art Institute but the first college she attended was the Institute of American Indian Arts (IAIA) in Santa Fe where so many well known American Indian artists have gone.  She is an award winning artist and between 2008 and 2010 taught Native American Art History at IAIA.  This is the image that she posted in her inaugural issue.  It is a gouache she painted called, “Bringing Harmony into the World” and as you can see from the tools in the image she is using the arts to accomplish this.

America became absolutely passionate about her desire to educate but she wanted more.  She wanted to communicate between the many art worlds in all Native American communities throughout the Americas.  She realized that in order to reach so many constituencies she would need to write.

A magazine seemed to be the best vehicle with which to cast the widest net.  To get started she raised funds using the Kickstarter program, an internet funding platform.   When that was not enough she added her own funds and borrowed money from her family.

Her magazine covers Native Arts throughout the Americas, which includes Canada, the United States and South America.  Her interest is art, something for which there is no word in the Native American languages.  Why? Because it is integral in their culture.  An Indian child learns how to draw, paint, weave, bead etc. from the time they are tiny tots.  I am guessing it is to some extent like learning to play games, its just part of life.  Her magazine is not about ethnography or history in their own right but only how they pertain to art.  This is an image of one of her magazine’s covers with partial contents.

While Anglos have written about Indian art for some time, Native young people have only recently begun to study their own art history.  These are the voices, which America feels are missing today and wants for her magazine.

Hers is a niche publication among the few magazines devoted to Native American culture, some of which are focused on a specific region.  It currently has a print run of 5,000 which she intends to expand.  She is presenting her publication at as many Indian art shows and markets as possible.  She even went so far afield as to  go to the College Art Association whose annual meeting was in New York this year.  She said she was particularly well received there by other minority constituencies like the feminist contingent and the Black American Art Caucus.

In her first issue America wrote, “There are thousands of Indigenous tribes, nations and villages in the Americas, who speak thousands of different languages” and these are the people she believes she can unite through the language of art under the umbrella of her publication.  It may a bit of a Utopian idea but the concept fills a vacuum that can only have a positive influence on the field.  Take a look at the website and subscribe.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you so much for your generous description of First American Art Magazine. I'm always trying to find words for "art" in Indigenous American languages. Here's some I've found. If anyone knows more, please let me know! -America M.

    ᏗᏟᎶᏍᏙᏗ or ditlilosdodi = art, Cherokee
    Eqqumiitsuliorneq = art, lit. "to create something strange", Greenlandic Inuktitut/Kalaallisut
    Muzenebeëgawenene = artist/painter, Minnesota Ojibwe
    Nakvhakv = art, Muscogee Creek; nakvhayv = artist, Muscogee Creek
    Kapchiy = art, Quechua ; Sumaq Kapchiy = visual arts, Quechua
    Tōltēcāyōtl = art, artworks, Nahuatl
    Tonkasali imponna = artist, Choctaw