New Exhibition, Incoming Gallery Celebrate Native American Artistry

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BY PHILIP LEDERER SRQ DAILY WEDNESDAY PHILANTHROPY EDITION WEDNESDAY JUL 10, 2019

Native American art and artists take the spotlight at Art Ovation Hotel this week, with both the opening of a new exhibition celebrating the work of the late Navajo artist Rex A. Begaye and the arrival of Harold Littlebird and Felix Duenas as artists-in-residence for the week. And it all comes as precursor to and reveal of the October arrival of First Feather Gallery, an art gallery opening on Sarasota’s Central Avenue with a focus on Begaye and contemporary Native American artists.

With 40 pieces on display throughout the Crescendo Gallery at Art Ovation, In Beauty and Harmony May You Walk celebrates the life and legacy of Begaye through a retrospective that spans two and a half decades and several media, including giclee, acrylic on canvas, pen and ink and pencil. Traditional Native American patterns and stories take center stage in every piece, manifest in striking color. Many present in a collage of visual poetry, with native faces and totemic beasts like bison and bald eagles, wolves and mountain cats, all superimposed across a great astral plain of stars and shadowed planets. Looming behind it all, the vast majesty of the natural world and the enormity of its interconnectedness.

For more information on the creation stories, histories and environmental import behind the work, guided tours with Barbara Huntoon, founder of First Feather Gallery and wife of the late Begaye, will be offered every day this week, and by popular demand throughout the exhibition’s run.

“There’s a different perspective that people don’t see unless they allow the spirit to enter them,” says Littlebird, a Native American stoneware artist from Laguna and Kewa Pueblos in New Mexico. “That’s what Rex had, and it baffles the imagination.” Littlebird met Begaye only once and briefly, he says, but it’s an encounter he’ll always remember.

Visitors can ask Littlebird about that and more this week, as the artist serves as one of Art Ovation’s artists-in-residence, setting up in the lobby studio with his stoneware and stories, ready to share. Working in stoneware for 53 years, Littlebird makes every piece by hand using slab construction—no potter’s wheel—and hand-details a distinct picture and pattern on each one with underglaze pencils, meaning no two come out alike and each one represents a considerable time investment. Each also has its own story, most stemming from Native American mythology, traditional stories and cosmology, but also from his own life experience, which is how dolphins and manatees made their way into the symbolic mix.

And while Littlebird knows that most won’t understand the full story from a single image or artifact, they can appreciate the importance that stories themselves hold for a people and the reverence for the natural world on display. “I hope they notice that Native People pay attention to every little detail,” he says.

Joining Littlebird as an artist-in-residence at Art Ovation this week is Felix Duenas, a painter with Incan roots and rock-and-roll influence. Both will be available through Sunday and in attendance at an opening reception at Art Ovation Hotel tonight from 5pm to 7pm.

Pictured: 'Blessing for Rain' by Rex A. Begaye. Image courtesy of First Feather Gallery.

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