“Tom Jones,” “John Hitchcock,” “Emily Arthur,” Sherry Leedy Contemporary Art

Gallery Installation view (photo by: Elise Gagliardi)

Tom Jones, John Hitchcock and Emily Arthur, artists showing now at Sherry Leedy Contemporary Art, express complex facets of Native American culture, heritage, memory, displacement and loss in distinctive and uniquely beautiful solo exhibitions. All three artists are professors at the University of Madison-Wisconsin.  

Tom Jones is featured in the front gallery with a stunning series of portraits titled “Strong Unrelenting Spirits,” which he began in 2015. Jones, a member of the Ho-Chunk Nation,  describes this current series as being “rooted in Ho-Chunk identity.”  

The full-color, mixed-media digital photographs are bold and visceral, with life-size figures emanating from deep, black grounds. Jones incorporates intricate beadwork (glass and shell beads) and rhinestones into the photos to create geometric and floral patterns surrounding the figures like auras, which he describes as “a metaphor for the spirits of our ancestors who are constantly looking over us.”  

Jones refers to a childhood visit with his mother to see a Sioux medicine man at the Rosebud Reservation as inspiring “Strong Unrelenting Spirits,” where he witnessed “small orbs of light” floating around a darkened room as women sang, asking “spirits to come in.”  

“Bella Falcon” (2023) is a stand-out, depicting a young woman from the Bear Clan surrounded by an overall pattern of glistening orbs composed of beads and rhinestones, which Jones acknowledges as the first portrait referencing the light orbs he saw that day at the Rosewood Reservation. (Learn more from the video, Spotlight Sessions: “Bella Falcon” by Tom Jones, Milwaukee Art Museum.

Bella Falcon, 2023. Digital Photograph with shell beads, glass beads, and rhinestones. 43” x 77” 

Other portraits feature Ho-Chunk youth wearing traditional Native dress including elaborate beaded necklaces, vests, feathered head-dresses, beautifully patterned clothing, silver, and turquoise jewelry, each embellished with Jones’s precise beadwork. In contrast, “Levi Blackdeer” (2023) depicts an older male adult wearing a traditional feathered headdress and vest embroidered with US Army, revealing the conflation of Native American life with the U.S. military.  

John Hitchcock “Horse Masks, Honor the Land Series-NIGHT SONG (left)” (2023). Screen print, acrylic, felt, and ribbon, 72″ x 32″.

John Hitchcock’s exhibition, “Horse Songs,” is an imaginative, symbolic installation comprising sculptural horse masks and works on paper, “created to honor, remember, and respect the Comanche, Kiowa, and Cheyenne people and their horses.”  

Hitchcock’s works on paper incorporate ethereal silhouettes of horses, horse masks, birds and stars amid dappled patterns of vibrant color. Horse mask sculptures and two screenprints from 2023, “They Dance to the Sun (Black Horse)” and “They Dance to the Sun (White Horse),” incorporate soft, shimmering ribbons conjuring movement and elegance along with a sense of absence and loss.  

Hitchcock references the 1874 slaughter of “an estimated 1400 horses and mules in the Tule Canyon belonging to the Comanche, Kiowa, and Cheyenne people” by the 4th U.S. Cavalry troops as the specific event inspiring this series and acknowledges that this event “contributed to the forced removal of the Comanche people to the present-day Wichita Mountain area of Lawton, Oklahoma, which is my home.” 

Emily Arthur, “Water Bird with Group of Flowers and Water Moccasin” (2024). Screen print and acrylic on Arches paper with attached leger papers and handmade sheet of abaca paper with enclosure (book plate). 30″ x 22″

“Printer Matter: Land Lines & Water Lines,” by Emily Arthur, is a gorgeous series of mixed media collages on unique screen prints depicting silhouettes of migratory birds – some black, others transparent – including the Anhinga, Barred Owl and Trumpeter Swan looming amidst patterned grounds including snakes and flowers.  

“Black Swan with No Where Left to Go” (2024) invokes the ominous eradication of flora and fauna “to make way for the development of roads, schools, and planned communities.”  

Arthur has linked the forced removal of Indigenous people through government policy with her ecological concerns.  As she explained in her statement for a 2022 exhibit at the James Watrous Gallery, Overture Center for the Arts, in Madison, “I see nature as an interdependent living force, rather than as the backdrop for human events. Displacement, loss and a concern for the environment are a result of my personal experience. The Cherokee and European descent of my family offers a multilayered perspective embodied in my work.”  

“Tom Jones,” “John Hitchcock,” “Emily Arthur” continue at Sherry Leedy Contemporary Art, 2004 Baltimore Ave., through May 25. Hours are 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday – Saturday and by appointment. For more information, 816.221.2626 or sherryleedy.com. 

Heather Lustfeldt

Heather Lustfeldt is a writer, educator and arts professional with a passion for public program development and community engagement for audiences of all ages, abilities and backgrounds. Heather lives in Kansas City with her two sons.

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