Kay WalkingStick: Mountains/Canyons/Clouds
My present paintings of mountains and sea are vistas of memory — our ‘America the beautiful.’ They are meant to glorify our land and honor those people who first lived upon it. (Kay WalkingStick)
Hales is delighted to announce, Mountains/Canyons/Clouds, a solo exhibition by Kay WalkingStick. Her debut solo show at the gallery exhibits landscape paintings made during the past ten years, which explore North America and a spiritual connection to place.
Kay WalkingStick (b. 1935 Syracuse, NY) is a citizen of the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma, she has Cherokee/Anglo heritage. She received a BFA from Beaver College (now Arcadia University) Glenside, PA in 1959 and an MFA from the Pratt Institute, Brooklyn, NY in 1975. She lives and works in Pennsylvania. Over a career spanning six decades, WalkingStick’s practice has focused on the North American Landscape and its metaphorical significances to Native Americans and people across the world. WalkingStick draws on formal modernist painterly traditions as well as the Native American experience to create works that connect the immediacy of the physical world with the spiritual. Attempting to unify the present with history, her complex works hold tension between representational and abstract imagery.
The title of the exhibition, Mountains/Canyons/Clouds reflects the eternal and universal quality of nature felt in the paintings. WalkingStick’s consideration of earthly beauty led her to explore the resonance of history in these lands. Seeking sites of epic natural splendor, she spends time sketching and taking photographs of each place to work from later in the studio — then researching the Native history of each site. Across each work she overlays a traditional Native American design upon the surface. The shapes are kept the same, but the colors are changed to compliment and interact with the vista behind. Reading as an abstract guide, the designs are drawn from Native American people who have inhabited the area or live there now.
Often, she will draw upon Indigenous designs she finds in the archive at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian. In Winter Passage (2017) the pattern is drawn from a Mono Lake Paiute basket design. This band of Northern Paiute people live near Mono Lake, Mono County, California and are well known for their coiled basketry. WalkingStick uses basket designs as well as parfleche, beadwork and pottery because they are set out on a grid, making them a powerful structural tool. David W. Penney (co-curator of WalkingStick’s blockbuster touring show An American Artist) states ‘Geology is witness to cultural memory. And then these designs are a way of reasserting the fact that these are Native places that can’t be separated from Native experience, history, and the history of this country.’ The designs show what is both known and unknown, visible and invisible within the land. Dancing across the surface, the delicate presence of the patterns transforms the panoramic vistas into actively spiritual sites that remain meaningful to many, revealing knowledge through contemplation.
In the exhibited works, WalkingStick paints in oil across two wooden panels. Her practice shifted to working across two surfaces in the 1980s when she started to create diptychs. The diptychs marked a move away from pure abstraction, to combining abstraction and realistic depictions of landscape side by side. WalkingStick notes that ‘the diptych is an especially meaningful metaphor to express the beauty and power of uniting the disparate and this makes it particularly attractive to those of us who are biracial. It also visualizes the connection between our sacred earth and the cosmos, reminding us of the need to protect our planet.’ In these recent, visually unified works this duality remains, in geologies and histories, and in the physical and spiritual expressions of space.
WalkingStick’s works connect to the history of American landscape painting, particularly the Hudson River School painters, such as Albert Bierstadt. She draws on the romanticism of nineteenth century artists, bringing close attention to the grandness of the landscape. However, this is where the similarity ends, WalkingStick recontextualizes the beauty of the landscape; ‘My work has a different message. I’m saying that this is Indian land. It wasn’t just an empty place waiting for white settlers to fill it up. It’s Indian land.’ (2018) WalkingStick is reclaiming these places, not as areas of conquest but areas to be protected.
The landscapes in Mountains/Canyons/Clouds reflect a balance between memory and lived experience, subtly evoking her personal history. WalkingStick’s practice is both a visual record of her understanding of the earth and an attempt to come to terms with a Native American history that has been forgotten or ignored. In works of rich colors and bold forms there is a sense of ancestral presence and a deep connection to place.
WalkingStick’s extensive retrospective at The National Museum of the American Indian, Washington DC, toured the United States to the Heard Museum, Phoenix, AZ; Dayton Art Institute, OH; Gilcrease Art Museum, Tulsa, OK; Kalamazoo Institute of Art, MI; and Montclair Art Museum, NJ (2015-2018).
WalkingStick has been included in many exhibitions, including The Whitney Museum of American Art, NY; Minneapolis Institute of Art, MN; Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, AR; Heard Museum, Phoenix, AR; Eiteljorg Museum, Indianapolis, IN; Baltimore Museum of Art, MD; Morris Museum, Morristown, NJ; Bruce Museum of Arts and Science, Greenwich, CT; Montclair Art Museum, NJ; Columbus Museum of Art, Columbus, OH; National Gallery of Canada, ON; The; Nevada Museum of Art, Reno, NV; Peabody Essex Museum, Salem, MA; Oklahoma City Museum of Art, OK; The Birmingham Museum of Art, AL; and Aldrich Museum, Ridgefield, CT.
Her work is in many collections, including Albright-Knox Museum, Buffalo, NY; Arkansas Arts Center, Little Rock, AR; Baltimore Museum of Art, MD; Birmingham Museum of Art, Birmingham, AL; Cherokee Heritage Foundation, Tahlequah, OK; Denver Art Museum, Denver CO; Detroit Institute of Arts, Detroit, MI; Heard Museum, Phoenix, AZ; Hood Museum of Dartmouth College, Hanover, NH; Hunter Museum, Chattanooga, TN; Israel Museum, Jerusalem, Israel; Kalamazoo Institute of Arts, Kalamazoo, MI; Krannert Art Museum, Urbana-Champaign, IL; Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY; Minneapolis Institute of Art, Minneapolis, MN; Museum of Contemporary Art, San Diego, CA; National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa, Canada; National Museum of the American Indian, Smithsonian Institution, Washington DC; Portland Art Museum, Portland OR; Rockwell Museum of Western Art, Corning, NY; San Diego Museum of Fine Arts, San Diego, CA; Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington DC; Southern Plains Indian Museum, Anadarko, OK; Spencer Museum of Art, Lawrence, KS; Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond, VA; and Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, NY.
WalkingStick was a Professor of Fine Arts at Cornell University from 1988 until her retirement as a Professor Emerita in 2005.