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Native American Contemporary Art Sites in our Area

AMERINDA, American Indian Artists, Inc., is the premier Native American multi-arts services and the only independent, multi-arts organization of its kind in the United States, serving emerging and mid-career Native American artists. Founded in 1987, Amerinda catalyzes Native American performing, visual, literary and media artists, and promotes awareness of these artists. AMERINDA presents curated exhibitions of contemporary Native art and stimulates research into the history and trends of Native American contemporary expression. AMERINDA is the steward of the New York Contemporary Native American Art Movement and as such fosters the advancement of tribally-enrolled Native Arts community. This incredible organization has its headquarters in the East Village at the St. Nicholas of Myra Orthodox Church at 288 East 10th Street.

St. Nicholas of Myra Orthodox Church at 288 East 10th Street, home to AMERINDA headquarters. Photo Credit: Trevor Reed (Hopi)

Recently AMERINDA reached out to Village Preservation and identified sites in our area which are significant within the Native American Arts community, and we thought we would share them with you today.

AMERINDA founder, Diane Fraher (Osage/Cherokee)

Wilmer Jennings Gallery at Kenkeleba House at 214 East 2nd Street
In 2013, this gallery hosted the ground-breaking exhibition The Old Becomes the New: New York Contemporary Native American Art Movement and the New York School, which marked the first time Native American arts in New York City was defined as a movement. AMERINDA followed this exhibition in 2017 with the publication of No: Reservation: New York Contemporary Native American Art Movement.

214 East 2nd Street

Washington Square Methodist Episcopal Church at 135 West 4th Street
The Spiderwoman Theater Ensemble was launched in 1976 at this Greenwich Village church by original members and sisters Lisa Mayo, Muriel Miguel and Gloria Miguel from the Kuna and Rappahannock nations. The Spiderwoman Theater Ensemble is the oldest Native American feminist theater group in the United States, and one of the leading performing arts groups to emerge out of the New York movement, gaining national and international attention. Additionally, this ensemble is the oldest continuing feminist theater group in the United States and internationally. Their work explores the issues of gender roles, cultural stereotypes, sexual and economic oppression – sexism, racism, classism, and violence against women.

Spiderwoman Theater’s unique “story-weaving” methodology infuses traditional storytelling genre with organically layered movement, text, sound, music and visual images. This culminates into a powerful voice for indigenous women and cultural artisans. They founded the Native American Women Playwrights Archive at Miami University in Ohio where they received honorary Doctorates of Fine Arts in 1997 for their life’s work and contribution to the theater.

Washington Square Methodist Church, 135 West Fourth Street

La MaMa Theater, 66 East 4th Street
The Native American Theater Ensemble (NATE), founded 1971 by Hanay Geiogamah (Kiowa and Delaware nations), made its debut performance at La Mama Theater of its first piece, Body Indian, in 1972. This event signified the beginning of contemporary Native American theater in the United States. Geiogamah is a visionary and fulfilled a pivotal role for the times in which the New York contemporary art movement was emerging in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

Hanay Geiogamah continues his work as playwright, producer, and distinguished professor today as a professor in the School of Theater, Film and Television at UCLA. The original members of the Native American Theater Ensemble (NATE) in alphabetical order are: Richard Camargo (Comanche); Monica Charles (Klallam); Timothy Clashin (Navajo); Keith Conway (Blackfeet); Geraldine Keams (Navajo); Deborah Key (Southern Cheyenne); Jane Lind (Aleut); Grace Logan (Osage); Gerald Bruce Miller (Skokomish/Yakimah 1944-2015); David Montana (Papago); Marie Antoinette Rogers (Mescalero Apache unknown – 1996); Robert Shorty (Navajo); Deborah Finley Snyder (Colville); Bernadette Track Shorty (Taos Pueblo); Michael Trammell (Shawnee/Delaware); and Phil Wilmon (Cherokee).

La MaMa Theater, 66-68 East 4th Street
Hanay Geiogamah (Kiowa/Delaware)

Theater for New York City (TNC), 155 First Avenue
Thunderbird American Indian Dancers was founded by Louis Mofsie (Hopi-Winnebago) in 1963. The group is in-residence at Theater for the New City and it is is the oldest resident Native American dance company in New York. This all-volunteer group was founded by a group of ten Native American New Yorkers from the Mohawk, Hopi, Winnebago, and San Blas tribes. Founding members included Josephine Mofsie-Tarrant, Gloria Miguel, Jonathan Williams, Swift Eagle, Jack Preston (Seneca, deceased); and Rosemary Richmond (Mohawk, deceased); and others. They founded the group to keep alive the traditions, songs, and dances they had learned from their parents and added to this knowledge from other tribes also living in New York.

The company has held a monthly powwow in the city continuously since its founding, stage a large annual summer powwow in New York, have a scholarship fund, and perform all across the United States and internationally. The troupe specializes in educational programming for schools, clubs and civic organizations. The collaboration with the Theater for the New City (TNC) began in 1975 and continues with a Winter Solstice Powwow every year. The troupe also presents the Thunderbird American Indian Powwow at Queens County Farm, 73-50 Little Neck Parkway; The original location was at McBurney YMCA, 23rd St. 7th Ave. 

In addition, the Theater has been presenting the Thunderbird American Indian Dancers annually since 1976, the proceeds from which go to the Thunderbird American Dancers Scholarship Fund.

155 First Avenue

Image of Louis Mofsie, founder of the Thunderbird American Indian Dancers

Thunderbird American Indian Dancers

Tanager Gallery, 90 East 10th Street
This artist-run studio that was located at 90 East 10th Street during the 1950s and 60s exhibited artists of various mediums and movements – sculptures, painters, photographers, and performance artists, Abstract Expressionists, American Realists, Pop Artists, and Collagists. One such artist was George Morrison (1919-2000, Chippewa) who exhibited there from 1952 to 1962 with Joan Mitchell, Robert Rauschenberg, and Ad Reinhardt. His studio was on East 9th St. near Cooper Union.

George Morrison was born on the Grand Portage Indian Reservation in Minnesota. He came to New York in 1943 with a scholarship to the Art Students League. Around 1954 he met Franz Kline, Jackson Pollock, and Willem de Kooning. Influenced by surrealism and Abstract Expressionism, he began showing in New York galleries and at the Whitney Museum of American Art. In addition to his cubist and abstract expressionist vocabulary, Morrison created mosaics with found materials of Provincetown on Cape Cod. He was a co-founder of the New York Movement of Contemporary Native American Visual Art.

Untitled, 1958-60 George Morrison
George Morrison
90 East 10th Street

Studio of Leon Polk Smith, 51 West 10th Street

Leon Polk Smith (1906-1996) (Cherokee) had a studio in the 51 West 10th Street Studio Building in Greenwich Village. Smith was a Co-Founder of the New York Movement of Contemporary Native American Art, and is considered one of the greatest modernist painters of the 20th century. His work is widely influential, and helped pave the way for 1950s-1960s minimalism. 

Smith was one of the initiators of the “hard-edged” technique of painting. Through his work, Smith did identify explicit Native American references, but expressed them innately through his concept of oneness that included unified faculties in his artistic process; emotions, intellect, unconscious, and intuition. Some of his color choices such as bold graphic definition and geometric patterns are also reminiscent of Native American design. 

Above: Leon Polk Smith. Smith was of Cherokee heritage, and moved to New York in 1936 from Oklahoma when it was still Indian Territory. After arriving in New York he attended Teachers College at Columbia University

To learn more about AMERINDA and the work that they do, go to http://amerinda.org.

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