Sunday, March 3, 2024

Marcus Amerman

My wife, the curator, would tell you that a good exhibition will tell you a story. I would say a good exhibition is one you enjoy. We have seen one that does both so I would qualify it as a success.

The exhibition is called “Pathfinder: 40 Years of Marcus Amerman” and you will find it at the Wheelwright Museum of the American Indian in Santa Fe. In the spirit of full disclosure, I am on the Wheelwright Board of Directors. However, I have been visiting the Museum for the past 30-plus years before joining the Board two years ago and this is one of the best shows I have ever seen there.

Marcus Amerman (1959-) is a multidisciplinary artist of the Choctaw Nation in Oklahoma. He is known as a bead artist, glass artist, painter, fashion designer, and performance artist. Amerman received a BA in Fine Art at Whitman College in Walla Walla, Washington, with additional art study at the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe. He also had a residency at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian. Here is Amerman at the opening of his exhibition.

He learned at the early age of 10 how to create art with beads from his aunt. Since his bracelets are sold commercially, he is best known in that category and has been referred to as a "photobeadalist". For more of my commentary on beading ...

Amerman has mastered the technique to the point of creating true portraits where the subjects are clearly recognizable. To illustrate the point here is an image of Buffalo Bill standing with a group of eight Native Americans. They are identifiable leaders of the Crow and Pawnee Nations. Amerman copied an 1866 photograph using 120,000 beads in 120 different colors! Here is Amerman’s work and the original photograph. He said in a video that accompanies the exhibition that “it is said that the photo steals the soul of the Indian and I believe my beading steals it back”.

For this exhibition, the Museum commissioned Amerman to create an image specific to the Wheelwright. He used historic photographs of the Museum’s co-founder, the Navaho artist and medicine man Hastiin Klah. In the lower half, he depicted the figure of Klah before the Museum building that he did not live to see, while in the upper field, he abstracted Klah’s features in the searchlight beams of the opening celebration.

Amerman has a wonderful sense of humor. His college roommate told us that he would play practical jokes and when his victims chased him into his dorm room they would find no one there because he had figured out how to “hide behind a wall”.

He often assumes the guise of his alter ego, Buffalo Man. In the photographic parody by Cara Romero, “The Last Indian Market”, he is posed at the center of other Indian artists participating in the Market. A life-size figure of in the outfit and mask he fashioned for his Buffalo Man stands In the Wheelwright show. He created the character around 2002 and in 2008 is quoted as saying, “Beadwork is my gun, painting is my bow and arrow, fashion is my lance and installation is my coup stick”.

Amerman can’t stop himself from turning the most mundane objects into works of art. Here is one of his hubcap shields. When we were invited to his studio/residence we saw the profusion of objects he hordes for use in one or another of his various creations.

He has said that he enjoys painting the most and finds it the most satisfying. Here are two images, before and after, where no explanation is necessary. Ameriman’s moving vision of 9/11 in two paintings that come at the end of the show.

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