318-piece Native American art exhibition opens Aug. 24

July  20, 2010

Sometimes I am overcome with the emotions these pieces bring — not at the passing of their makers, but more for the gratitude I have that I can stay connected to the old ones through their work. As long as we remember them, they are not gone. Our continuing technique and style give us a sense of our heritage and culture. Participating in the process of creating something beautiful keeps us in contact with the ones who taught us the skills. When we create, they still create through us.

— Nathan Youngblood, an artist represented in the Olson-Brandelle North American Art Collection (Breaking the Mold: The Virginia Vogel Mattern Collection of Contemporary Native American Art)


The Augustana College Art Museum will display for the first time in its entirety the Olson-Brandelle North American Indian Art Collection from Aug. 24–Oct. 30. This collection introduces Southwest Puebloan ceramics at a level that otherwise can be studied only in Denver or Indianapolis. Exhibition-related events include an arts festival where Native artists represented in the collection will demonstrate and speak about their artwork.

In August 2004, Kent Olson ’61 and his wife, Elaine, donated the collection to Augustana, and have supported subsequent additions. The 318 objects comprise more than 220 traditional Pueblo Indian pottery forms; the remainder are baskets and other textiles, original prints and clay figures. Also included are 36 photogravures by Edward Curtis from his volume The Hopi, and a substantial reference library. Dating from pre-1600 to the present, the collection aims at documenting continuing traditions and the recognition achieved by Native American potters during the 20th century.

The exhibition and accompanying 336-page catalog are part of the sesquicentennial celebration of the founding of Augustana. Major scholars wrote catalog essays, including Duane Anderson, Karen Barrie, Bruce Bernstein, Jill Leslie Furst, Francis Harlow and Barton Wright. More than 50 Augustana College students, four faculty, two administrators and the donor were involved in research and writing for the catalog.

Robert Tenorio

Santo Domingo potter Robert Tenorio

“The project is an unprecedented combination of external scholarship and undergraduate research and interpretation of the collection as part of art and anthropology classes, and work for the Augustana College Art Museum,” says Sherry Maurer, director of the museum.

The collection is dedicated to honor the donor’s family tree of Olsons and Brandelles, all of Swedish-American heritage, some of whom attended Augustana and were active in the Augustana Synod.

While Kent Olson’s career was that of an attorney, his calling in life has been to connect with Southwest Native American people through collecting their art. His interest began in 1979 while visiting a colleague in Scottsdale, Ariz. In his host’s library, he found a book with photographs of pueblo pottery in desert settings, and his search to learn more led to galleries, museums and the famous Indian Market in Santa Fe.

The importance of family

During the course of his studies, he developed friendships with scholars and the artists themselves. Olson realized the importance of family relations in preserving artistic momentum.

“Many times an early 20th-century matriarch inspired multiple generations of artists to follow, and to bring new ideas to their heritage,” Maurer notes. “Thus, the acclaimed Hopi-Tewa potter known only as Nampeyo is represented, along with works from her great-granddaughters.”

In his collection, Olson aimed for diversity of pueblo, clay, shapes and uses. It was assembled to allow for study of the growth of North American Indian art as a fine art form. Most of the objects derive from groups associated with Arizona and New Mexico — although objects from makers in Alaska, California, New York, North Carolina, Oklahoma and Utah are included. The ceramic accomplishments of the Southwest Pueblos are the strongest of North American indigenous groups, reflecting a reliance on the most prominent natural resource of the arid landscape — the earth itself.

“On this 150th anniversary of the founding of Augustana College,” says Augustana President Steve Bahls, “may the Olson-Brandelle collection provide generations of Augustana students a connection to the past and present of an extraordinary culture — in a way that cleanses them of misunderstanding, and opens them to deeper respect of the peoples who came before them on this land we now know as America.”

The Augustana College Art Museum is located in Centennial Hall, at the northwest corner of 7th Avenue and 38th Street, Rock Island, Illinois. Museum hours are noon to 4 p.m., Tuesdays through Saturdays. For further information, call (309) 794-7231.

Exhibition-related events

Panel discussion with the artists

Sept. 15, 7:30 p.m.
Larson Hall, followed by reception in the Augustana College Art Museum
Panel discussion with artists represented in the Olson-Brandelle North American Indian Art Collection — D.Y. Begay, Navajo weaver; Robert Tenorio, Santo Domingo potter; Kathleen Wall, Jemez figurative potter; Richard Zane Smith, Wyandot potter; and Sally Black, Navajo basketmaker.

This program is partially funded by the Olson-Brandelle North American Indian Art Collection and the Institute for Leadership and Service.

Arts festival

Sept. 16, 10:30 a.m.-noon
Centennial Hall Convocation
First Connections: An arts festival with artists represented in the Olson-Brandelle North American Indian Art Collection — D.Y. Begay, Navajo weaver; Robert Tenorio, Santo Domingo potter; Kathleen Wall, Jemez figurative potter; Richard Zane Smith, Wyandot potter; Sally Black and Agnes Gray, Navajo basketmakers. The Brown Otter Singers Song and Dance Group, Meskwaki, will perform a finale for this event in Centennial Hall at 11:20 a.m. This event will feature artists demonstrating and speaking about their artwork in Centennial Hall, Larson Hall, Potter Hall and in two tents in front of Bergendoff and Centennial halls.

This program is made possible with funding from the Institute for Leadership and Service, Augustana College and the Olson-Brandelle North American Indian Art Collection.

River Readings

Thursday, September 23, 7 p.m.
Centennial Hall, followed by reception in the Augustana College Art Museum

River Readings presents Acoma Pueblo poet and writer Simon Ortiz. One of the most distinguished Native writers of the last half century, Ortiz has written numerous books of poetry, short fiction and prose. He earned a master’s in fine arts from the University of Iowa in 1969 and has taught at various institutions. He currently teaches at Arizona State University. Ortiz’s many awards include the New Mexico Humanities Council Humanitarian Award, the National Endowment for the Arts Discovery Award, the Lila Wallace Reader's Digest Writer's Award, a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship, the Pushcart Prize in poetry and Honored Poet at the 1981 White House Salute to Poetry. In 1993 Ortiz received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Native Writers Circle of the Americas.

This event is supported by the Institute for Leadership and Service, the English Department, the Thomas Tredway Library and the Augustana College Art Museum.

Contact Augustana Magazine editor Debbie Blaylock by email; by phone at (309) 794-8979; or by mail at Augustana College, 639 38th St., Rock Island, Ill., 61201.