IAIA Courtney Leonard Jeff Sippel
Courtesy Jason S. Ordaz/IAIA
Courtney Leonard and Jeff Sippel work on prints for the Art in Embassies program.

IAIA Alumni Produce Prints for US Embassies Around the World


In an effort to broaden international understanding of the contemporary Native art experience, the Institute of American Indian Arts recently collaborated with the U.S. Department of State’s Office of Art in Embassies to produce a limited edition print series showcasing the art of IAIA alumni.

Fifty prints will be created—10 from each artist—to be placed in U.S. Embassies, Consulates, and Ambassador’s residences around the world. The prints will be created from original art by master printers Jeff Sippel and Don Messac.

Don Messec working on the prints. (Courtesy Jason S. Ordaz/IAIA)

“For five decades, Art in Embassies (AIE) has played a leading role in U.S. public diplomacy through a focused mission of cross-cultural dialogue and understanding through the visual arts and dynamic artist exchange,” reads a press release about the program.

Since 2005, AIE has installed more than 58 permanent art collections in U.S. diplomatic facilities around the world.

“Art in Embassies cultivates relationships that transcend boundaries, building trust, mutual respect and understanding among peoples,” said U.S. Secretary of State John Forbes Kerry. “It is a fulcrum of America’s global leadership as we continue to work for freedom, human rights and peace around the world.”

IAIA alumni artists chosen for this program include: Tony Abeyta, Navajo; Crystal Worl, Tlingit/Athabascan; Jeff Kahm, Plains Cree; Courtney Leonard, Shinnecock; and Dan Namingha, Tewa-Hopi.

Abeyta currently works in mixed media painting. He started his studies at IAIA and is a New York University graduate. “There exists a rhythm in the land where I was born. I spend a lot of time deciphering the light, the cascades of mesas into canyon, the marriage between earth and sky, and the light as it constantly changes... I am beckoned to remember it and then to paint it,” he said in the release.

Tony Abeyta “Infinite Wisdom,” hand-printed multi photo-plate lithography.

Worl was raised in Alaska, where she was introduced to traditional arts, practices, and storytelling. She earned her BFA in Studio Arts from IAIA. She now lives in Juneau, and works in kiln-cast glass, printmaking, and painting.

Crystal Worl “Into Water,” hand-printed combination of photo-plate lithography with hand built waterless lithography plates.

Born in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada and raised on the Little Pine First Nation in Saskatchewan, Kahm is an associate professor in art at IAIA.

Jeff Kahm “Converse,” digital pigment print.

Leonard, from Long Island, New York, is an artist and filmmaker. She currently lives in Santa Fe, where she works as a professional artist and lecturer.

Courtney Leonard “Blue Blood,” laser-etched paper with hand-printed multi photo-plate lithography.

Namingha received an honorary doctorate from IAIA in 2009, and has been showing professionally for more than 40 years. He is drawn to his roots, embedded in ceremony, yet his art only allows a guarded glimpse of his traditions.

Dan Namingha “Hopi Montage,” hand-printed multi photo-plate lithography.

These artists were honored by Vice President Joe Biden and his wife, Dr. Jill Biden, in October, at their home.

RELATED: Dr. Jill Biden and Vice President Biden Honor 5 Native Artists at the VP’s Home

Tony Abeyta, Crystal Worl, Vice President Joe Biden, Courtney Leonard, Jeff Kahm and Dan Namingha at the Bidens’ house during the reception on October 27, 2015. (Tony Powell)

“As ambassadors will tell you, guests to our embassies—the thing they most gravitate to is the art we display,” said Vice President Biden. But “it’s not just the art.” He said he takes great pride in the efforts President Barak Obama has taken to advance tribal sovereignty and self-determination. “More than any administration, we have tried very hard—Barack and I—to strengthen the relationships between our nations,” he said. “I’ve supported tribal sovereignty my entire career and self-determination my entire career. We know and mean and use the phrase ‘Indian nations.’”

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