ALL ROADS ARE GOOD: NATIVE VOICES ON LIFE AND CULTURE; Various Native authors; Simthsonian, New York: 1994; 224 pages paperback 9 x 9 " profusely illustrated, mostly color, $29.95; SBN 1-56098-452X

This opening exhibition, slated to run through 1998, 17 Native North Americans and 8 from Mexico or Central America were asked to choose objects meaningful to them and write an essay about it. Essays and photos of the objects -- with some very short bios on the Native authors -- form this book. In general the essays are quite interesting, informative, well-written, sometimes evocative. The quality of reproduction is good. What is disappointing here is that the museum staff -- scholars, cataloguers, researchers, indexers -- fell down on the supporting job of describing and attribiting the pictures of objects chosen. It is as if they said to themselves "Here come the Injuns, let's leave 'em to it and go out for some white wine and Perrier." As a book of illustrated essays it's very worthwhile. The essays are interestingly different from those more usual to art museum catalogs -- each Native person picked a number of objcts from the huge collection and was self-guided by the theme that governed their choices. Thus Ojibwe Earl Nyholm picked a number of beaded bandolier bags -- many scanned and reproduced here in the Art beadwork section, which Nyholm's essay inspired me to do. As an art museum exhibit catalog, a should-be permanent reference to a part of the collection -- which it also is -- it is a disgrace, lacking particulars on many objects, such as a whole group of footgear whose key (buried far from the photo) is misleading, incomplete and incorrect. (Of course museum collections do tend to be disgracefully inadequate as to who made it, when, because most of it is loot.) This book is highly interesting reading, illustrated by many beautiful objects, which inspired each Native essayist's thoughts. Most related their selections and writing to their own tribes. Gerald McMaster's footgear is from many tribes, cultures, times -- many so interesting and unusual that I was infuriated at the museum's poor ID's. Lloyd Kiva New was inspired by Northwest Coast hats -- something ntirely differnt from anything from his own tribe (Cherokee). Tom Hill (Seneca) picked a number of "tourist" objects -- all quite splendid fancies, no junk -- to discuss his themes of survival and adaptation. Pomo basketweavr Susan Billy, Navaho weaver D.Y. Begay, Pueblo pottery-family mmber Rina Swentzell all select objects relevant to the crafts and tribes of their special interest and membership. Altogether, the essays are a fascinating look at many beautiful objcts, not treated in the usual standoffish way as bits of evidence for an objective and distancing history. This book is very highly recommnded for school and class use, and is one of my favorites just for personal bedtime reading. You can see a few examples of poorly-reproduced pix and text at the Smithsonian page for it. Reviewed by Paula Giese

File: art2004

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Last Updated: Monday, October 28, 1996 - 4:07:17 AM