Kay WalkingStick (Cherokee, b.1935), Niagara, 2022. Oil on panel in two parts. New-York Historical Society, Purchased through the generosity of Agnes Hsu-Tang and Oscar Tang; Nancy Newcomb; Anonymous; Barry Barnett; Helen Appel; Belinda and Charles Bralver; Dorothy Tapper Goldman; Margi and Andrew Hofer; Louise Mirrer; Jennifer and John Monsky; Suzanne Peck and Brian Friedman; Pam and Scott Schafler; Barbara and Elliott Wagner; and Linda Ferber, 2023.2ab. © Kay WalkingStick.
An Exhibition Exploring the Relationship between Indigenous Art and American Art History Ahead of National Native American Heritage Month
Six-Month Exhibition Opens October 20, 2023
Kay WalkingStick to be Honored at New-York Historical’s 2023 History Makers Gala
This fall, the New-York Historical Society presents Kay WalkingStick / Hudson River School, an exhibition showcasing landscape paintings by the renowned, contemporary Cherokee artist Kay WalkingStick in conversation with classic works from New-York Historical’s collection of 19th-century Hudson River School paintings. On view October 20, 2023 – April 14, 2024, this artistic dialogue spotlights the ways in which WalkingStick’s work connects to and diverges from the Hudson River School tradition, and explores the agency of art in shaping humankind’s relationship to the land. By examining and highlighting contemporary Indigenous art in the changing discourse of American art history, the exhibition celebrates a shared reverence for nature and galvanizes critical discussions on land dispossession and its reclamation by Indigenous peoples and nations. This presentation reflects the vision of New-York Historical’s new Board Chair, Dr. Agnes Hsu-Tang, to illuminate Indigenous histories in the shaping of America and is the result of a close collaboration between the artist and Wendy Nālani E. Ikemoto (Native Hawaiian), senior curator of American art at New-York Historical.
In conjunction with the exhibition, WalkingStick will be honored with the History Makers Award at New-York Historical’s annual History Makers Gala on October 19.
“As New York’s first museum founded in 1804, the New-York Historical Society is proud to be the first American historical institution to doubly honor an esteemed contemporary Indigenous artist with a focused exhibition of her artistic achievements and a landmark celebration acknowledging her stature as a stateswoman—through her artistry and teaching—of Indigenous heritage,” said Dr. Agnes Hsu-Tang, board chair of New-York Historical. “In Kay’s paintings, landscapes are imbued with agency, through which contemporary Indigenous peoples and cultures exert their robust presence in history and modern society. Kay WalkingStick—long admired for her humanity, erudition, and grace—has been a trailblazing visual historian for 60 years, and we are privileged to honor her with the History Maker award in advent of Native American Heritage Month.”
“This exhibition is a meditation on the theme of humanity’s relationship to nature, as observed by Kay WalkingStick and the artists of the Hudson River School,” said Dr. Louise Mirrer, president and CEO of New-York Historical. “It has been an incredibly rewarding experience to collaborate with the artist on this exhibition and showcase her work, while also examining our historic collections from a new perspective. We look forward to celebrating Kay WalkingStick’s illustrious career at our gala this fall.”
“I hope viewers will leave the Museum with a renewed sense of how beautiful and precious our planet is,” said Kay WalkingStick. “Also, that they depart with the realization that those of us living in the western hemisphere are all living on Indian Territory. These are certainly straightforward, even obvious, thoughts, but I believe they are concepts easily forgotten. It’s easiest to simply get on with our lives. We are all responsible for the health of our planet. We are all responsible to see that our legislators honor the many treaties made with the American Indians throughout our history and that Native rights are honored.
“Painting is a visual language. This is what my paintings are saying to you.”
Highlights of the exhibition’s more than 40 works include two of WalkingStick’s paintings that are directly inspired by Hudson River School artists; the artist’s sole landscape referencing the Trail of Tears (a journey her Cherokee ancestors were forced to take); examples of her early painted sculptural abstractions inspired by nature; and several of her most recent paintings—like Niagara and Aquidneck After the Storm—which overlay geographically specific abstract Indigenous patterns onto representational landscapes in order to re-assert an Indigenous presence long erased in European settlers’ depictions of North America as a pristine and unpopulated wilderness. Native American objects on loan from the artist and other museum collections, including woven baskets and a ceramic jar, offer insight into WalkingStick’s source patterns and artistic process.
Showcasing WalkingStick’s work alongside both Euro-American and Indigenous traditions of art, the exhibition demonstrates the complex ways the artist contends with and interweaves these artistic lineages. Niagara, which was recently purchased by New-York Historical, is grouped with two paintings of the iconic waterfalls by Louisa Davis Minot (1787-1858), which are among the few known works by her hand and rare examples of early 19th-century landscape paintings by a Euro-American woman. These works position WalkingStick within a lineage of women landscape painters in the Hudson River region while also considering the critical differences between the two artists’ approaches: Minot’s composition includes generic Indigenous figures to distinguish the site as North American, while WalkingStick uses a culturally specific Haudenosaunee pattern to mark the land as Indigenous.
Other works from New-York Historical’s collection demonstrate the Hudson River School artists’ attempts to forge landscape into an expression of national and cultural identity. These include Asher B. Durand’s Catskill Study, NY, ca. 1870, which invites direct communion with nature; Albert Bierstadt’s 1860 painting Indian Encampment, Shoshone Village, which promoted US expansion westward; and John Frederick Kensett’s Pulpit Rock, Nahant, from 1859, depicting the touristic allure of coastal nature.
Kay WalkingStick (b. 1935, Syracuse, NY) is a citizen of the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma with Cherokee/Anglo heritage. Her six-decade career is both a visual record of her life experience and her attempt to present Native American history as a crucial part of America’s history. She 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 connect the present with the past, her complex works hold tensions between representational and abstract imagery. Her paintings represent a knowledge of the earth and its sacred quality. WalkingStick’s work is in many museum collections, including Denver Art Museum; Detroit Institute of Arts; Metropolitan Museum of Art; Minneapolis Institute of Art; Museum of Contemporary Art, San Diego; Museum of Modern Art (MoMA); Smithsonian American Art Museum (SAAM) and National Gallery of Art; National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa, Canada; Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian; Philadelphia Museum of Art; Portland Art Museum; and Whitney Museum of American Art. 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 also has a PhD from both Arcadia University andPratt Institute. She lives and works in Pennsylvania.
Accompanying the exhibition is a full-color, 56-page catalogue. It includes images of all the works on view and a conversation between Kay WalkingStick and Wendy Nālani E. Ikemoto. It will be available for sale at the NYHistory Store.
Major support for Kay WalkingStick / Hudson River School is provided by the Lily Auchincloss Foundation.
Exhibitions at New-York Historical are made possible by Dr. Agnes Hsu-Tang and Oscar Tang, the Saunders Trust for American History, the Evelyn & Seymour Neuman Fund, the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council, and the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of the Office of the Governor and the New York State Legislature. WNET is the media sponsor.
About the New-York Historical Society
Experience 400 years of history through groundbreaking exhibitions, immersive films, and thought-provoking conversations among renowned historians and public figures at the New-York Historical Society, New York’s first museum. A great destination for history since 1804, the Museum and the Patricia D. Klingenstein Library convey the stories of the city and nation’s diverse populations, expanding our understanding of who we are as Americans and how we came to be. Ever-rising to the challenge of bringing little or unknown histories to light, New-York Historical will soon inaugurate a new wing housing its Academy for American Democracy as well as the American LGBTQ+ Museum. These latest efforts to help forge the future by documenting the past join New-York Historical’s DiMenna Children’s History Museum and Center for Women’s History. Digital exhibitions, apps, and our For the Ages podcast make it possible for visitors everywhere to dive more deeply into history. Connect with us at nyhistory.org or at @nyhistory on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, TikTok, YouTube, and Tumblr.