The National Veterans Art Museum is excited to present Original Warrior, our new exhibition which explores the complex Native American relationships between warrior and community, warrior and war, and warrior and service.

Curated by Tom Jones and Ash Kyrie, Original Warrior features the work of Native American artists: Rick Bartow, Miridith Campbell, T.C. Cannon, Melissa Doud, Teri Greeves, John Hitchcock, Tom Jones, Monty Little, Clarence Monegar, Lloyd Kiva New, and Horace Poolaw.

Native American nations have a long tradition of honoring and welcoming veterans back into their community after a time of war. For instance, pow wows have kept their focus on celebrating community and cultural traditions even as the expressive elements used–fabrics, colors and songs–continue to evolve over time. Melissa Doud's (Lac Du Flambeau-Chippewa) piece, "Bullet Dress," is a case in point. "Bullet Dress" takes the traditional form of a pow wow celebration jingle dress but is composed of camouflage fabric and empty shell casings brought back from Doud's tour in Iraq. “Creating this dress after I came back from Iraq was part of my healing journey," Doud says. " Now I dance for others and can display the path I went through to get here."

Vietnam veteran Rick Bartow is another featured artist in the exhibit. Like many veterans, Bartow suffered from PTSD and survivor's guilt upon his discharge in 1971. The following year, he began developing emotional complex prints and lithographs of his experiences. “When I returned from Viet Nam, like so many others, I was a bit twisted. I was a house filled with irrational fears, beliefs, and symbols. Wind-blown paper would send me running; crows became many things. During this time, I found a huge pad of newsprint and began to draw, trying to exorcise the demons that had made me strange to myself. My work has never stopped being therapy.”

It is a sobering fact that the rate of Native Americans who enlist in the military is higher than any other demographic. Co-Curator Tom Jones says, “Statistically, Native Americans send more of their people off to war more than any other group in American, one in four Native Americans are veterans. The role and responsibility of the veteran is still central to our traditional ceremonies. I am in awe of these people, their experiences, their sacrifice and their dedication to community.”

Original Warrior also includes civilian Native American artists who each create works reflecting the identity and roles of the warrior within their own communities. Teri Greeves (Kiowa) uses the Native American tradition of bead working, like her grandmother before her, to express her creativity and experiences as a 21st Century Kiowa woman. Co-curator Tom Jones (Ho-Chunk), has been photographing the flagpoles of Ho-Chunk veterans at the Memorial Day Pow Wow in Black River Falls, Wisconsin for twenty years.

Other artworks in Original Warrior include lithographs by Vietnam veteran T.C. Cannon (Kiowa-Caddo), paintings and monographs by Iraq War veteran Monty Little (Dine), installation and prints by John Hitchcock (Comanche), watercolors by World War II veteran Clarence Monegar (Winnebago), and beadwork pieces by Marine Miridith Campbell (Kiowa).

Rick Bartow (Wiyot, Vietnam War): Bartow suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder and survivor’s guilt after he was discharged from the military in 1971. He participated in conventional therapy but believes that making art was what helped him find himself again. For Bartow, the artistic process starts with a search for metaphors. “And then sometimes things happen, and I follow the lead. And in the end, I’m dealing not only with the part of me that’s Native American but also the part of me that is a veteran.” Throughout his career, Bartow created multi-layered, visually complex lithographs that express his response to these powerful internal forces. 

Miridith Campbell (Kiowa, U.S.M.C., U.S. Army, U.S. Navy): A military veteran of the U.S. Marine Corps, U.S. Army ABN and a U.S. Navy SeaBee, Miridith Campbell became a full-time traditional artisan of Southern Plains culture, specializing in clothing and the utilitarian items of the Indian Wars period during Westward Expansion. As a form of expression with many designs being family-‘owned,’ her beadwork reflects the attention to color, form and design that is created uniquely for each individual. It also requires a process of exploring family histories, academic studies and individual interpretations of what will be conveyed in each piece.

T.C. Cannon (Kiowa/Caddo, Vietnam War):  Tommy Wayne Cannon studied at the Institute of American Indian Arts in  Santa Fe, where he studied painting and print-making. After graduating from IAIA in 1964, Cannon joined the army and served as a paratrooper. He was sent to Vietnam from 1967 to 1968 and earned two Bronze Star medals during the TET Offensive. He became an important voice in Native American art and was on the verge of his first solo exhibition in New York when lost his life in a car accident in Santa Fe in 1978.  

Melissa Doud (Lac Du Flambeau-Chippewa, Iraq, Army):  For Melissa Doud, being a powwow jingle dancer is about healing. Melissa served 20 years in the U.S. Army including one tour in Iraq. Her powerful piece Bullet Dress is composed of 365 spent bullet casings sown onto a dress made of camouflage fabric. Doud says, “Creating this dress after I came back from Iraq was part of my healing journey. Now I dance for others and can display the path I went through to get here."  

Teri Greeves (Kiowa): Teri Greeves follows in the historical tradition of her Kiowa grandmothers in creating beadwork pieces that are both art and craft. Greeves uses beadwork to decorate clothing and household objects as well as to make prayer blankets. By using the techniques and materials of her forebears, Greeves expresses herself and her experiences as a 21ts Century Kiowa woman. Regarding her prayer blanket in Original Warrior, Greeves say, “This blanket is my prayer–a prayer for the all the Kiowa men and women serving in the Middle East to take their rightful place with the Kiowa warriors that have come before them.”  

John Hitchcock (Comanche): John Hitchcock is an award-winning printmaker and Installation artist whose work explores the relationships between community, land, and culture. He grew up on his family’s tribal land in the Wichita Mountains of western Oklahoma, across from Fort Sill, the US military’s oldest field artillery base.

Hitchcock’s work often combines images of U.S. military weaponry with mythological hybrid creatures from the Wichita Mountains to explore concepts of assimilation and control. He currently serves as Professor of Art, Department Chair of Theatre and Drama and Associate Dean of Arts at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. 

Tom Jones (Ho-Chunk): Tom Jones is an Assistant Professor of Photography at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. His photographs examine identity and geographic place with an emphasis on the experience of American Indian communities.  Jones’s photographs question the assumptions made by made by non-natives and Natives alike regarding notions of identity within the American Indian culture. He continues to work on an ongoing photographic essay on the contemporary life of his tribe, the Ho-Chunk Nation of Wisconsin.  

Monty Little (Dine, Iraq War, USMC):  Monty Little served as a Rifleman and fireteam leader in the U.S. Marine Corps from 2004 to 2008. He deployed to various countries in Southeast Asia and to Iraq. After leaving the Marine Corps, Little graduated from the Institute of American Indian Arts with a degree in Creative Writing and Studio Arts. Little has written extensively about his military experiences. Much of this writing contains a surrealistic quality Little also captures in his paintings and monographs.    

Clarence Monegar (Winnebago, WWII, Ambulance Driver): Clarence Monegar was a primarily self-taught watercolorist who loved painting the landscapes and wildlife of his home state of Wisconsin. In 1945 Monegar was drafted by the U.S. military to serve as an ambulance driver in WWII. After his return home, Monegar did a brief stint at the Art Institute of Chicago to study print-making. He soon lost interest in the medium and returned home to Wisconson, where he continued to paint watercolor scenes. Many of his works were hung in banks and professional offices. Although Monegar never gained national recognition, his works were well-loved in his home state.  

Lloyd Kiva New (Cherokee WWII, Navy): Lloyd Kiva New was born in Oklahoma in 1916, the 10th child of a poor farming family. New grew up near oil-rich city of Tulsa and became exposed to formal art education and urban Native Americans. He earned a degree in art education from the Art Institute of Chicago in 1938, taught painting at the Phoenix Indian School, and enlisted in the Navy in 1941, where he served on the USS Sanborn on the Pacific Front. After the war New returned to the U.S. and built a highly successful career as an artist, teacher, and leader. Lloyd Kiva New, who passed away in 2002, is best known for fashion design and developing innovative concepts in culturally-based education for Native people. 

Horace Poolaw (Kiowa, WWII, Army): Horace Poolaw was the most prolific photographers of the Plains Indians during the 20th century. In the five decades covered by Poolaw’s photography, the Plains Indians were undergoing sweeping cultural transformations. His portraits of his family and community reflect the dichotomy of their daily lives as both American and indigenous citizens.

The exhibit will be on display from Saturday, October 6th through Saturday April 22nd in the main galleries of the National Veterans Art Museum.