Multi-media art exhibit kicks off calendar for Visual Arts Series

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January 14, 2020

By Connor Kockler ’22

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For the first visual arts exhibition of the new year, a unique art installation will set up shop at the Saint John’s University Art Center.

Emphasizing the power of oral and narrative history, artist and musician John Hitchcock has assembled a fascinating look into the past and the present-day United States through a Native American lens.

“Bury the Hatchet: Prayer for My P’Ah-Be” is a multi-media, cross-disciplinary, multisensory art exhibit on display Jan. 16 through Feb. 28 at the Alice R. Rogers Gallery and Target Gallery. It is part of the Visual Arts Series at the College of Saint Benedict and SJU and is sponsored by Fine Arts Programming.

An artist reception is from 5-7 p.m. on Thursday, Jan. 23 at the galleries, with a talk by Hitchcock at 6 p.m.

This will be followed by a musical performance by Hitchcock and his band “Nate Meng and the Stolen Sea” from 6:30-to 7 p.m. at the Art Center. A concert by the band will also be held at Brother Willie’s Pub on the SJU campus from 9:30-11:30 p.m. that night featuring the group’s regular set list.

Hitchcock, a well-known artist whose work has been featured around the world, also serves as Professor and Associate Dean of the Arts at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He grew up on Comanche tribal land in the Wichita Mountains of Oklahoma, near the U.S. military base of Fort Sill, experiencing the intersection between Native American tribes and how they were affected by the United States and government actions.

“It’s like a cacophony of information. Because there’s so much, there’s the layers of the history,” Hitchcock said. “The music is an album called ‘Bury the Hatchet.’ And ‘Bury the Hatchet’ consists of stories about those places like Fort Sill where Native American leaders like Geronimo (Apache), Set'tainte (Kiowa) and Quanah Parker (Comanche) were imprisoned. So, the Apache, Kiowa and Comanche people and that imprisonment, the military and its relationship to my upbringing where I grew up is a big part of this.”

“Bury the Hatchet: Prayer for My P’Ah-Be” features a variety of elements, including music, prints and buffalo inspired artwork. There will also be video images including tribal war dancers in Oklahoma and images of buffalo recorded in the Wichita Mountain Wildlife Refuge.

CSB/SJU Art Gallery Manager Jill Dubbeldee Kuhn touted Hitchcock and his artwork.

“This is a unique opportunity for our campuses, students, the Art Department and Fine Arts Programming. It’s a gift to witness the passion Hitchcock has for this country’s history and a change in perception and redefinition,” Dubbeldee Kuhn said.

Flipping the usual narrative of the Wild West, “Bury the Hatchet: Prayer for My P’Ah-Be” challenges old interpretations of westward settlement with a variety of different elements, exploring issues of assimilation, acculturation and indoctrination in affected tribal communities.

Dubbeldee Kuhn explained how the SJU Art Gallery will be utilizing its space to bring Hitchcock’s vision to life.

“The SJU Art Gallery will contain several framed screen prints also using acrylic paint and dyes with repeated images of the Medicine Wheel, buffalo and abstracted landscapes,” she said. 

“The beauty of installing an artist’s work in different galleries allows for various creative layouts. Saint John’s Alice R. Rogers Gallery is a large, high space. My vision for ‘The Protectors’ - an impressive installation (on the north wall of the gallery) - is to invoke a sense of dualism , vulnerability and power of the great buffalo era echoing larger social and political issues.”

Hitchcock talked about how the materials used in “The Protectors” evoke a larger symbolism.

“There’s a piece called ‘The Protectors’ that has Naugahyde. Naugahyde is in reference to buffalo hide but it’s a simulated hide that is actually produced here in Wisconsin,” he said.

“And so, the whole idea is the simulated world we live in manufactured with plastics, and oil, and the manufacture of noise and information from the internet to the societal constraints on how we think in terms of media culture,” Hitchcock said.

Dubbeldee Kuhn also emphasized the one-of-a-kind vocal and music aspects of the exhibit.

“Viewers can listen to a vinyl recording by John Hitchcock on pedal steel guitar along with fellow band members of the Stolen Sea during gallery hours and participate in two mini live rock concerts (at the Art Center and Brother Willie’s Pub) with John Hitchcock and his band. Having a concert the night of the reception inside the gallery has never been done before in its history,” she said.

Recordings that will be playing during regular viewing hours include Hitchcock playing pedal steel guitar with accompanying instruments; Hitchcock’s cousin Jason Cutnose’s story of the Cutthroat Gap Massacre in Oklahoma; a recording of a Comanche prayer; Hitchcock’s grandfather Johnny Reid telling a story of the old days of the Southern Plains; and a singing interpretation of Cutnose’s stories through soprano and intertribal war dance songs.

Hitchcock explained how the he got the idea for putting together the album while working with the “Stolen Sea” bandmembers.

“How the ‘Bury the Hatchet’ album started was Nate (Meng) would take a while to get set up with his equipment, and while he was setting up, we would just start jamming. We would jam, and basically come up with these riffs. And those riffs I just started collecting them on my phone. And then we decided, I was going to do this project with letterpress prints and stories so let’s put them all together and they said, ‘let’s do it,’” Hitchcock said.

“Bury the Hatchet” 12-inch vinyl albums, CDs and letterpress prints will be available for purchase during the artist reception. They are also available at Sunday Night Records.

The Art Department will also be hosting a letterpress workshop with Hitchcock, Roberto Mata Torres and CSB/SJU Associate Professor of Art Rachel Melis from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Friday, Jan. 24 in the Welle Book Arts Studio (room A62), Benedicta Arts Center, CSB. Attendees will learn the basics of using a letterpress to print plastic plates. It is open to the public and attendees will be able to watch as prints are made and take one home with them.

“For me, this has been a dream come true because of the reality of playing music since I was young and making art since I was young are finally coming together in the same kind of venue. Which is like magic to me,” Hitchcock said.

“Bury the Hatchet: Prayer for My P’Ah-Be” and its corresponding events will be part of CSB and SJU week-long activities honoring the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jan. 20-24.

The Saint John’s Art Center hours are from noon to 6 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday, and noon to 9 p.m. each Thursday. The center is closed Sunday and Monday.