By Sue Bjorkman
St. Augustine’s 450 years of multicultural history includes a Native American story not often told. The Re-Riding History: From the Southern Plains to the Matanzas Bay exhibition and symposium, Jan. 16 – Feb. 27, gives visual voice and awareness to this hidden history.
Held at the Crisp-Ellert Art Museum at Flagler College in partnership with St. Augustine’s 450th Commemoration, the exhibition features 72 powerful works by renowned artists from all over the country.
The artists were selected to symbolize 72 Cheyenne, Kiowa, Comanche, Arapaho, and Caddo Indians captured in Oklahoma and forced to make the journey to imprisonment at the Castillo de San Marcos – then known as Fort Marion – in the mid-1800s.
The location adds to the powerful message of the showing, according to co-curator, project director and artist Emily W. Arthur. The museum is only a few blocks from the fort, allowing viewers to see both the historic location as well as the contemporary response.
The other co-curators include Marwin Begaye, associate professor at the University of Oklahoma; and John Hitchcock, professor at the University of Wisconsin.
Julie Dickover, director of the Crisp-Ellert Museum, said this is an important exhibit to include with the 450th anniversary events.
“There is a lot happening in this city for the 450th, but not much attention given to the Native American history. We have a very significant history here, and it’s a story everyone needs to know about,” Dickover said.
Artists response to history
The curators selected contemporary native and non-native artists who work with political, social and cultural issues. They then limited the artwork dimensions to 9 x 11.5 inches to duplicate the original ledger book size drawings made during the Federal relocation and incarceration program at Fort Marion.
The artists used these drawings, as well as prisoner biographies, their own family history, research and topography for inspiration. The results are multimedia artistic works that are edgy, symbolic, hard-hitting, and emotionally complex.
Artist Edgar Heap of Birds found inspiration in his own heritage. His grandfather, Chief Many Magpies, was one of the four principal Chiefs of Cheyenne. He was imprisoned in St. Augustine and is buried “somewhere near the fort.” The artwork repeats the Cheyenne word for grandfather three times, signifying his yearning over the loss.
In her artist biography, Xenia Fedorchanko said the forced assimilation program administered by Lieutenant Richard Henry Pratt was “psychological warfare” that made Indians wear surplus military uniforms and get European haircuts.
After this showing, the exhibition will travel to other cities, but this is the only one that will also exhibit the regional collection of original ledger drawings made in Fort Marion, on loan from both the St. Augustine Historical Society Research Library and the Fort Caroline museum collection.
The exhibition and symposium are supported through a grant from The Community Foundation for Northeast Florida.