By Katharine Thomas
SARASOTA, FL — A crowd gathered on March 18 for an artist panel reflecting on the opening of a historic exhibition at the Ringling Museum. Reclaiming Home: Contemporary Seminole Art is the first exhibition of Native American art to be presented at this museum. Ringling Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art Ola Wlusek curated this exhibition, It showcases “contemporary art by Native American artists with ancestral, historical, and present-day connections to Florida.”
John and Mable Ringling opened The Ringling Museum of Art in 1931 to further education and foster an appreciation of art in young people. The museum houses a collection of over 28,000 works originating from Western and non-Western cultures in ancient periods, the European Middle Ages to the 19th century, and the American 2oth and 21st centuries. The Ringling recently acquired Jessica Osceola’s (Seminole Tribe of Florida) Portrait One, Portrait Two, and Portrait Three, the first Native piece to be added to the Ringling’s permanent collection.
Wlusek said when it came to curating exhibitions, she wants to focus on groups that are marginalized, underrepresented, and who hadn’t previously been in contact with the museum. She said, “the Native American artistic community was an overt gap in the exhibition programming” and she hopes Reclaiming Home is a first step toward creating more inclusive and representative programming.
Wilson Bowers (Seminole Tribe of Florida) described what it meant for Seminole work to be included at the Ringling: “I’m still taking it in, and it’s kind of surreal. When I came for the installation of my work, I realized we’re really in here … I’m really in here.”
Muscogee/Cherokee Nation artist Elisa Harkins explained her feelings as one of the exhibition’s non-Seminole artists, saying that being part of the show is an honor. “This exhibition has a different meaning for me because I recognize that I’m a guest here,” she said. “It’s been really great to hear from them [the Seminole artists]and see how incredibly skilled and talented everyone is.”
Reclaiming Home features the works of Florida artists of the Seminole Tribe of Florida, Miccosukee, and mixed heritage backgrounds including Noah Billie (Florida Tribe of Seminole), Wilson Bowers (Florida Tribe of Seminole), Houston R. Cypress (Miccosukee), Alyssa Osceola (Florida Tribe of Seminole), Jessica Osceola (Florida Tribe of Seminole), Brian Zepeda (Florida Tribe of Seminole), Corinne Zepeda (Florida Tribe of Seminole/Mexican), and Pedro Zepeda (Florida Tribe of Seminole).
Artists of the Muscogee (Creek) and Seminole Nations from Oklahoma and beyond are also included in the exhibition: Elisa Harkins (Cherokee Nation/Muscogee), C. Maxx Stevens (Seminole Nation/Muscogee), Tony Tiger (Sac and Fox/Seminole/Muscogee), and Hulleah J. Tsinhnahjinnie (Diné/Seminole/Muscogee).
Reclaiming Home will be on display through September 4, 2023. A catalogue is available through the Ringling Museum Store. Michole Eldred reviewed the exhibition for the Spring 2023 issue of First American Art Magazine.