As some of you know I’m back in college to finish my graphic design degree. This semester I’m taking Art History and this week we had a field trip to the Detroit Institute of Art (DIA). Our assignment was to find one piece of artwork that spoke to us and write a paper about it. After touring the gallery entitled “Tour of Italy” I thought I’d picked my artwork. (I love Italy and want to visit one day, so a painting of Rome and Tiber River seemed perfect for me.)
But then I came across the New England Landscape by George Morrison in the Native American Galleries. (Wood 1965-67)
Notice the way he seemed to carve around the natural knot in a piece of wood to create a new shape. I don’t know for sure if that’s what he did or if that’s how the piece came to him. But see that piece in the lower left corner – there were several of those types of pieces in the artwork.
This wood collage assemblage took my breath away and I couldn’t tear my eyes away from it. I wanted to see it close up and far away. I wanted to run my fingers across the texture of the wood (I didn’t though). I wanted to take it down off the wall and see how it was constructed on the back. I stood there in the hallway for a long while. Getting close. Then backing up and standing far away. Looking at it from an angle or straight on.
(Warning: the following pictures are horrible – but it’ll give you an idea of how majestic this piece is.)
What strikes me so much is the way the individual wood pieces are fashioned together. This pieces is dated 1965-67, so we know it took him a couple years to assemble it. But it almost looks like Morrison picked up scrap pieces of lumber off his shop floor and started nailing them together, jigsaw puzzle fashion. Each piece fits so perfectly against the next piece like they were born that way and Morrison reunited the pieces in his collage.
I came home last night and searched for information about George Morrison. He’s one of very few Native American artists who is recognized as an American Modern Artist – without the Native distinction. He even says about himself: “I’m an artist who is Indian.” He is known for his painting, sculpture and wood collages. There are many in the series of assemblages like this one at the DIA – they are scattered all over the country including Minneapolis and Washington DC. The first photo above appeared on the DIA’s annual financial report for 2007 and it is one of the very few photos I’ve been able to find of it online (there are photos of other wood collages he made, but the one titled “New England Landscape” seems to be elusive).
I was especially drawn to the Native American Galleries because of my own Native heritage. My grandmother tells us that our family is from the Blackfoot Nation, but we have no documentation to trace our ancestry. But still, I’m often drawn to anything having to do with Native Americans.
The wood pieces he used were collected from all over the country… and the world. He would bring boxes of wood home with him from trips and people from all over the world would send him pieces of interesting-shaped wood. He used driftwood and lumber and reclaimed pieces from barns and homes along with pieces from broom handles or other hand tools. He made dozens of these wood collages, although I haven’t yet found an exhaustive list of just how many he’s done, but imagine how much wood was required to do all these. I’m still searching for information about him and have several webpages bookmarked to read. He’s got a book about his life that I want to try and find too – I’ve read small excerpts from the book on Google Books (which is where I read about his wood collecting adventures).
Unfortunately I did not take my camera with me to the DIA yesterday. I wish I had. After reading the photography policy on their website, it appeared I wouldn’t be allowed to bring my SLR camera in with me, so I just left it at home. But once I arrived I realized there were many, many people wandering around with their SLR digital cameras and the photography policy was not strictly enforced except in select areas of the museum (mainly where artwork was on paper or fabric). So the poor photos you see here were taken with my camera phone in a semi-darken hallway.
So even though this was a school field trip, it is something that fed my creative soul this week. I saw very little of the DIA in my 2 hour trip there and know I need to go back to spend an entire day. The photography gallery wasn’t open and I’d love to see what they have in there. And I didn’t even get to the contemporary galleries with more modern works of art. I’d also like to spend more time studying the big name guys — Monet, Van Gogh, Picasso, etc. And of course, I want to go back and see this George Morrison piece again.