Horizon, Host: Ted Simons

May 17, 2010


Host: Ted Simons

Heard Museum


  • A conversation with Dr. Letitia Chambers, the Heard Museum’s new director.
Guests:
  • Dr. Letitia Chambers - Director, Heard Museum
Category: The Arts   |   Keywords: Heard Museum, Native American,

View Transcript
Ted Simons:
The "Heard Museum" is internationally known for its extensive collection of Native American art. And, for the first time in its history, the "Heard Museum" has a Native American director. We'll hear about her vision for the museum. But first, Mike Sauceda tells us about the latest exhibit to "pop" up at the heard.

Mike Sauceda:
The Campbell's Soup can painting by Andy Warhol, a popular image. You will see lots more examples of pop art by Native American artists this weekend at what the "Heard Museum" simply called "pop."

Diane Pardue:
We were excited about some of the younger artists working in a pop art style, so we wanted to place that in a larger context of a pop art movement. And to do that, we included work by Andy Warhol and other artists, even Indian-American artists working at the time.

Mike Sauceda:
They plan to juxtapose mainstream pop art with Native American pop art.

Diane Pardue:
This is another section of the exhibit with two prints by Andy Warhol. One is carvings and the other is the Indian head nickel. This was the last series that he did. It was in 1986 and he passed away in 1987. The piece that we have partnered it with is by Jon Smith and it's a painting with collage with mixed media. It is abstract but it has the pop art iconology feel and the use of bold colors you see in pop art.

Mike Sauceda:
In a room bursting with bold colors, you will see different types of media used by artists from traditional Native American art.

Diane Pardue:
Not only are there paintings and prints but also beadwork. We have a pair of beaded sneakers by Terry Greaves. A pair of beaded shoes called "Clearly Red Hot Mama" by Paula Dede. There are ceramic pieces in the show. There is a bustier and we have a range of jewelry. There is beadwork and also jewelry made from canceled gift cards, Starbucks cards, then silver jewelry that references children's toys like barrel of monkeys and Lego’s.

Mike Sauceda:
She hopes people who see the exhibit will come to understand how Native American artists have been influenced by and have influenced pop art.

Diane Pardue:
We hope they have the understanding that native artists often reference contemporary work that there's been, by putting it in the context of the larger pop art movement that native artists have been active for some time doing this work. And that, again, artists don't work in isolation, there is a community of artists both American Indian and mainstream artists, and they look at what each other are doing and get influenced by each other, both native and non-native.

Ted Simons:
And joining me now to talk about her new role as director of the Heard Museum is Dr. Letitia Chambers. Good to have you here, thank you for joining us.

Letitia Chambers:
It is a pleasure to be here.

Ted Simons:
You've been here since January?

Letitia Chambers:
Yes, indeed.

Ted Simons:
Not much goes on around here, as you noticed.

Letitia Chambers:
Yeah. [Laughter]

Ted Simons:
We saw the pop exhibit at the Heard. What was the thought behind this?

Letitia Chambers:
The pop exhibit is -- pop has become a forum for a lot of our young Indian artists for social and cultural commentary, and that grows out of the original pop movement of the '60s so we thought it was an important thing to feature. Also, some of our more famous Indian artists began in the '60s in the pop movement there acting with Warhol and others in the effort to create this sort of new iconic movement. And so it was appropriate for us, we felt, to put our younger Indian artists in the context of both the Indian artists who started pop and the non-Indian.

Ted Simons:
And it helps, as well, break a stereotype I'm sure is out there, people think of American Indian art, they think of tradition, they think of the old ways, but American Indian art can be as avant-garde as the next.

Letitia Chambers:
It sure can be. Our young artists are part of the mainstream just like the artists that show across America in our museums, and they're exciting artists and they work in various genres, and it's important that we see native cultures as dynamic living cultures. Certainly the Heard has a wonderful reputation for its historic art and it has a history of putting that art in context of the cultures from which it came, the geography, and we want to continue to have shows that draw from our rich collection of traditional art, but we feel it's important to have that balance so that native cultures today are recognized, as well as historical cultures.

Ted Simons:
How is the Heard doing? These are tough economic times. How are you doing?

Letitia Chambers:
We've had a wonderful spring. We had very strong attendance over the course of February and March and April. We've had good attendance at our special fairs, like our hoop dance, our Indian fair and market. We have an exhibit we partner with, the desert botanical garden, featuring sculpture at the garden and sculpture and painting at the Heard, so that's been successful. So we actually had a recovery this spring. That said we're now worried because 65 percent of our audience is tourists, and if tourism drops off dramatically because of the new immigration law, that could hurt us.

Ted Simons:
Are you starting to see any of that yet, sensing any of that yet, or worried about the future?

Letitia Chambers:
We have not been able to tell yet if there has been a difference. This is the time of year that admissions usually drop off as the season ends, so we're not sure what's going to happen. We are concerned about convention goers, that may not come, but we're going to try to do everything we can to get those tourists who do come to the state to continue to come to the Heard. Plus, we are putting in place some programs to draw more local audiences.

Ted Simons:
Last question. Your ethnic heritage, what do you think that brings to this position?

Letitia Chambers:
Well, I think being of American Indian descent gives me a sensitivity about the Indian cultures that a non-Indian-related person might not have. In addition, I think the knowledge that I have of Indian art and artists is a plus. So in addition to my long career in business and education and working on museum boards and other things, I think that -- which is probably the reason the trustees hired me, but I think that special sensitivity from having native heritage will hopefully make a difference.

Ted Simons:
Very good. Welcome to town. Congratulations on the job. The exhibit looks fantastic.

Letitia Chambers:
Thank you, it is a pleasure to be here.

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