Press Release: Field Museum to Open Two New Exhibitions Featuring Contemporary Native American Art

October 25, 2016 Exhibition

The Field Museum cares for thousands of historical Native American artifacts in its collections, but this fall, it’s unveiling two new exhibitions highlighting the work of contemporary Native American artists. The two new exhibitions, both located near the Museum’s permanent Native American galleries, invite visitors to engage with both historical and contemporary Native culture.

Both new exhibitions, Drawing on Tradition: Kanza Artist Chris Pappan and Full Circle/Omani Wakan: Lakota Artist Rhonda Holy Bear, will run from October 29, 2016, through January 13, 2019.

Pappan’s work in Drawing on Tradition is a contemporary take on Native American ledger art, an art form developed in the nineteenth century when Native artists adapted their traditional buffalo hide paintings to paper ledgers when bison became scarce. Pappan draws with pencil on ledger paper, creating artwork that’s at once hyper-realistic and abstract. “The portraits he creates involve distortions—reflections, fish-eye lens effects, things that suggest that the image has been stretched or altered,” explains Alaka Wali, the Museum’s Curator of North American Anthropology.

“My art reflects the persistence of the distorted perceptions of our people, while facilitating the evolution of contemporary Native American art and culture,” says Pappan.

To complement this theme, and in addition to new and loaned pieces in the exhibition, some of Pappan's artwork will be displayed at The Field as decals applied to the glass cases in the Museum’s Native American hall, which the Museum is raising funds to renovate. “Our permanent hall was originally created in the 1940s, and while the artifacts remain powerful, they need fresh interpretation,” says Wali. “Pappan’s artwork provides that—by superimposing his drawings over the existing cases, we’re able to show that Native culture is vibrant, alive, and ever-changing.”

Full Circle/Omani Wakan: Lakota Artist Rhonda Holy Bear showcases Holy Bear’s evolution as an artist, from her teens to the present day. The Lakota words “Omani Wakan” refer to a sacred journey—Holy Bear’s lifelong quest to understand more about her cultural and spiritual identity.  “When Holy Bear was a teenager, The Field Museum was an important place for her to learn about her heritage—she would come here and spend time with the artifacts behind the scenes in our collections,” explains Wali. “This exhibition marks her return to a place that’s meant a lot to her throughout her life.”

Holy Bear’s artwork consists of intricately carved and beaded Native American figures that depict life on the Plains in the nineteenth century.  The exhibition brings together for the first time Holy Bear’s most significant works, including pieces that have been exhibited at world-renowned art museums.  Paired with objects selected from The Field Museum’s collection that inspired her, these detailed figures illuminate the depth of Plains cultures. “My figures represent my relatives, past, present, and future,” explains Holy Bear. “Without them, I could not be who I am today. My ancestors and their stories are connected like each vertebrae of my spine. I carry their story with me in my back. It’s a strong place to be.”

Members of the media are invited to an open house of the exhibitions on Tuesday, November 1, from 10am to noon.


Full Circle/Omani Wakan: Lakota Artist Rhonda Holy Bear is made possible by a generous donation from Joyce Chelberg."

"Drawing on Tradition: Kanza Artist Chris Pappan is supported in part by an award from the National Endowment for the Arts. To find out more about how NEA grants impact individuals and communities, visit

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