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CAIRNS director speaking at the South Dakota Art Museum

The Gift - SDAM exhibition with CAIRNS
Craig Howe

The Center for American Indian Research and Native Studies (CAIRNS) Director Craig Howe, Ph.D., will speak during two South Dakota Art Museum public events, April 21 and April 22. The first, April 21 from 4:30-7 p.m., is the opening celebration of the newest CAIRNS exhibition, The Gift. The public is invited to a free reception at the museum from 4:30-6 p.m. followed by Howe’s curator talk from 6-7 p.m. Howe’s talk will not be livestreamed, but a replay will be available later on the museum’s events page:

In the second event, Howe will join South Dakota Art Museum Collections Curator Taylor McKeown on April 22 from 9:30-10:30 a.m. in the museum’s new virtual series, Coffee with Collections. During this live Zoom-only program, participants will join McKeown and Howe in viewing and discussing selected historic and contemporary American Indian works from the South Dakota Art Museum collection. Each brings a unique perspective and expertise to this informal chat about important works stewarded in the museum’s collection. Registration for the Zoom link is available online:

The Gift

The Gift opened at the South Dakota Art Museum April 1 and is on view through July 31. It features visual artworks, songs and poems created for the exhibition by over thirty Lakotan artists, musicians, and poets. Visitors can use their cellphones to listen to the songs and poems while exploring the artworks and accompanying exhibit panels.

This is the most recent CAIRNS educational art exhibition collaboration with the South Dakota Art Museum. “We value our longstanding relationship with Dr. Howe and CAIRNS and are honored to share The Gift with visitors of all ages who seek a deeper understanding of Lakotan culture and history,” noted McKeown.  “I’m also looking forward to my chat with Craig during Coffee with Collections knowing his exceptional expertise in American Indian artwork, history and contemporary culture and issues.”

The exhibition consists of two sections, each centered on gifts given or foretold by White Buffalo Woman. The first, the “narrative” section, is based on a traditional Lakotan narrative about when White Buffalo Woman, an emissary from the Pte Oyate (Buffalo Nation), gave a sacred pipe to the Itazipco Oyate, one of seven oyates of the Lakota division of the Oceti Sakowin Confederacy. This narrative was told in 1911 by Lone Man in the Standing Rock Reservation. Frances Densmore recorded Lone Man and published his words in 1918 as “The White Buffalo Calf Pipe (Ptehin’cala Canonpa).”

The sacred pipe narrative is organized into seven passages, each of which is interpreted and illustrated by a Lakotan artist. These seven artists are the Narrative Artists for the exhibit. When Densmore recorded the narrative, she also recorded Charging Thunder singing, Song of the White Buffalo Maiden. Charging Thunder is the Narrative Musician for the exhibit and visitors can listen to his song while viewing the exhibit. There also is a Narrative Poet whose poem is in the exhibit and its online version. The creative works of these nine Lakotans constitute the Narrative section of the exhibit.

The second section of the exhibit explores the seven ceremonies ⎯ "gifts" ⎯ that Black Elk says were foretold by White Buffalo Woman. For each gift, a Lakotan musician or musical group composed a song, a Lakotan poet wrote a poem, and two Lakotan visual artists each created an artwork. These creative works constitute the Gifts section of the exhibit.

Visitors to The Gift can expect an enriching art viewing experience simply viewing the visual artworks. However, those who invest the time to read the narrative, listen to the music and poetry in the museum or through the online exhibition will gain the fullest appreciation for this exhibition. The CAIRNS online exhibition is available from the museum’s website:

Visitors can gain additional perspectives on White Buffalo Woman by exploring “The Legend of the White Buffalo Woman: Illustrations of Paul Goble,” on view through July 27. This exhibition features all seventeen Paul Goble illustrations from “The Legend of the White Buffalo Woman”—shown together for the first time. Published in 1998, the book relates the traditional narrative of the White Buffalo Woman, who gifted a sacred pipe to the Lakota. Also included in the exhibition are objects from Paul and Janet Goble’s personal collection, including a pipe stem and pipe bowl made by Myron Taylor (Flandreau Santee).

About South Dakota Art Museum

South Dakota Art Museum is located at 1036 Medary Avenue in Brookings and is open daily except for holidays including April 17-18, May 30 and July 4. Admission to the museum is free. Parking is also free in the museum’s reserved lot just west of the museum on Harvey Dunn Street. For more information, call 605-688-5423, email the South Dakota Art Museum or visit South Dakota Art Museum.

About the Center for American Indian Research and Native Studies (CAIRNS)

CAIRNS is an Indian-controlled nonprofit research and education center that is committed to advancing knowledge and understanding of American Indian communities and issues important to them by developing quality educational resources and innovative projects that acknowledge and incorporate tribal perspectives, and by serving as a meeting ground for peoples and ideas that support these perspectives.

Exhibition support for “The Gift” came from the South Dakota Art Museum, South Dakota Community Foundation. Exhibition venues also include the Akta Lakota Museum & Cultural Center, The Brinton Museum, Dahl Arts Center and The Heritage Center at Red Cloud Indian School.

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