Native American artists owe the late Lloyd Oxendine a debt of gratitude. Source:

Lloyd Oxendine, Native American Arts Advocate, Walks On

Alex Jacobs

The resume of the late Lloyd Oxendine, who died on August 5, is extensive but people today in the internet age may not recognize his name or work, yet hundreds, if not thousands, of Native American artists owe him a debt for his groundbreaking work in promoting contemporary Native American Art. Lloyd was Lumbee from North Carolina, winning many local honors, his talent soon had him attending Columbia University in NYC in the early 1970’s. During his graduate studies there he discovered that there was little information on Contemporary Native American Art. Oxendine did his research, brought it to Brian O’Doherty, editor of Art in America who published Lloyd’s article, “23 American Indian Artists” and then published a special issue (Art in America: July/August 1972) devoted to Contemporary American Indian Art.

As important as his work was, even more important was the high regard in which his fellow Native Artists held him. It will always be a struggle, but somehow he made it a little easier for everyone, most times with advice and wisdom collected in 30 years of an artist’s life in NYC. Manhattan may be the Art Center of the world but Lloyd made sure that everyone should and would find out about Native American Art. A 2013 art exhibit in NYC, The Old Becomes the New, recalls the overlooked dialogue and exchange between Indian Artists and New York abstract expressionists, some of whom claimed Indian heritage like Robert Rauschenberg and Leon Polk Smith. Smith would support Oxendine in starting up the city’s first gallery of Native Art, the American Art Gallery in Soho in the early 70’s.

The American Indian Community House at 7th and Broadway was the center for Indians living in NYC; it would also became a center for Native Art in the city and the east coast as Indians came to NYC to jumpstart a career in the arts. AICH had a gallery and over the years everyone contributed to the success of that humble space over time. The gallery became a highlight and a magnet as people were drawn to the art exhibits, and the evening poetry readings became a talked-about scene. The directors always had a hard time getting funding, as most funds went into AICH’s health, welfare and jobs programs. Oxendine had closed his American Art Gallery, left for Europe and San Francisco, and then accepted the job of Gallery Director at AICH in 1985.

As Gallery Director at AICH, Lloyd curated over 40 exhibits with public lectures and educational components; his work at the American Art Gallery, past curatorial work at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Brooklyn Museum, all came into play as he was successful in building the AICH Gallery’s reputation. He had many guest lectureships at important institutions all over the country and sat as a judge for several national art and culture organizations who awarded grants to Indian Art organizations and individual artists.

Peter Jemison (the first AICH Gallery Director) is now director of Ganondagan Historical Site and the new Seneca Center for Arts and Culture, speaking as an Iroquois orator, he said this about his friend Lloyd.

“A mentor, friend and fellow artist passed away August 5th 2015, he was Lloyd Oxendine, a Lumbee. First my condolences to Lloyd’s family and particularly to his son Marc and Lloyd’s mother. Lloyd was a graduate of Columbia University where he obtained a Master’s Degree in art history. We worked together back in 1972 to promote contemporary Native American Art, it was a bold and difficult choice for both of us. Each of us gave significant time and energy to this work and it should be noted with unqualified success from time to time. It was Lloyd’s article in Art in America in 1972 that greatly inspired me and it was during that summer he appeared on the Today Show with Barbara Walters who interviewed him. We worked together for about 4 years thereafter and over the years our paths crossed a number of times. My thoughts go to the work at the American Art Gallery, the excitement, the laughter, the artists and the struggle we experienced. Lloyd was brilliant and he could be difficult but his achievements are undeniable. I will miss that man I was privileged to call a friend and fellow artist."

Diane Fraher, founder of Amerinda, Inc in NYC: “I knew Lloyd my whole adult life in New York. I learned so much from him. He was wise, witty and brilliant and it will be hard to go on without him. As Native people so much of our history has been lost. I'm honored and grateful that AMERINDA was able to document his accomplishments in Native arts. Over the years I came to see a vulnerable part of him that he kept hidden. He would have been so surprised to see how much we Native people, and how so many of us, appreciate him. Thanks Lloyd!”

Nadema Agard, a longtime artist and supporter of Indian Arts in NYC: “Lloyd was one of the most important people in my life as a Native artist in NYC. He was an incredibly accomplished individual and I always felt he had my back. This is a tremendous loss for myself and all who knew him. Lloyd was also a friend whose droll sense of humor cannot be surpassed in my estimation. He was a one of a kind. His later accomplishments at the Metropolitan Museum of Art were quite important. I recommended that he join the Multicultural Advisory Committee and he did. During that time he organized honorings of Maria Tallchief and Richie Havens. R.I. P. dear Native artist brother.”

Somewhere in Indian Country today, artists, historians and educators are hard at work, and I hope one day in the not far off future, they will be presented with an award named to honor the work of Lloyd Oxendine.

Alex Jacobs
Santa Fe NM


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Wabeekwe's picture
Submitted by Wabeekwe on
I knew Lloyd in the 1980s very well. I lived in the same building where the AICH Art Gallery was located, at 591 Broadway. He was really gathered together and kind, non-judgmental, bemused and aware. In those years, and probably these days as well, the NYC AICH is an abysmal pit of self-pity, arrogance, incompetence, rage and pointless posturing. A truly terrible operation. The art gallery under Llyod was really the only part of that operation that worked well at all, and under Llyod it thrived. You do not say his age, but I think we was about my age, I am 66. He was a great man, a fine artist.