Gorman shared joy and skill in a decade of art represented in exhibition

The American Indian News Service | January 07, 2011

WASHINGTON – The Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian will open “R.C. Gorman: Early Prints and Drawings, 1966 – 1974,” an exhibition of 28 drawings and lithographs by internationally renowned Navajo artist R.C. Gorman from Jan. 13 to May 1.

The exhibition was originally shown at the National Museum of the American Indian in New York in 2006. It includes a rare self-portrait that shows smiling Gorman wearing sunglasses, a pink shirt and turquoise blue beaded necklaces, on fraying string, and some of the beads are falling.

Kathleen Ash-Milby, Navajo, interprets this as foreshadowing the artist’s emerging celebrity status and jet-set lifestyle. His art was admired and collected by several famous Americans, including Jackie Onassis, Gregory Peck, Elizabeth Taylor and Andy Warhol.

“Navajo Mother in Supplication” (1966)

A four-color lithographic print titled “Yei-bi-chai” (1974) that the artist created for his solo exhibition, a first for a living Native artist, at the Museum of the American Indian – Heye Foundation  in 1975. It was the first in a long series of popular poster prints, fulfilling Gorman’s desire to make art that was both accessible and affordable, especially to the Navajo community.

Gorman (1931-2005) was known for his iconic imagery of Navajo women, sometimes called Indian “madonnas.” The exhibition includes several including the oil pastels “Sleep,” which depicts a peacefully reclining nude, and “Navajo Woman Drying Her Hair,” a bold image of a standing woman touching her hair.

One in particular stands out in the mid-winter season; it is Gorman’s “Navajo Mother in Supplication” (1966). In it a mother, kneels, her whole body rounded over her infant lying on a blanket on the ground, her arms cradle the baby’s head, her nose seems to touch the baby’s nose as she kisses the little one. We can’t see what came before, maybe a diaper change, maybe she is swaddling the babe in a Pendleton blanket, what we see is she is overcome in a moment of love.