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Celebrate 40,000 Years of American Art

   Associated images:

Jaune Quick-To-See Smith

American, Born 1940

Celebrate 40,000 Years of American Art 1995
Master printer - Kevin Garber
Collagraph from one sintra plate
Paper unknown
79"h x 54"w
Ed. 20
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Jaune Quick-to-See Smith was another artist with a strong national reputation who was invited to work in St. Louis in 1989 and again in 1995 at the Washington University Collaborative Printmaking Workshop.(1) As a member of the Flathead Nation in Montana, Smith’s identification with her Native American heritage permeates the art that she makes. Cahokia was made during Smith’s first visit to WUCPW. Cahokia is the name of the Native American mounds near St. Louis that Quick-to-See Smith visited when she was in the area. Smith’s resulting work, a hand-colored stone lithograph that was not exceptionally large, adhered to the more conventional nature of the work being done at WUCPW at the end of the 1980s.

In 1995, Jaune Quick-to-See Smith arrived for her second visit to the shop. Perhaps one of Quick-to-See Smith’s finest prints was made in St. Louis during this stay. Shown in the 1998 Venice Biennale and among the first Island Press prints to be acquired by the Whitney Museum of American Art, Celebrate 40,000 Years of American Art depicted a standing rabbit that was walking towards the foreground. This movement was represented through the depiction of the rabbit multiple times in increasingly larger sizes. Smith derived the rabbit image from a book on the Peterborough petroglyphs of Ontario.(2) In her print, she affirms that the history of the United States and its art is not merely 300 or 400 years old, but rather extends back 40,000 years to a time when the first groups of nomads entered the territory that is now the Americas. The rabbit petroglyph, an image that had haunted the artist from the first time she saw it in the late 1970s, was a very early form of art found in North America. It spoke to Quick-to-See Smith about a history of Native American art that predated, by far, the history of art in Western culture. "Even though we are educated in the Euro-American mainstream and learn that Columbus discovered us," she once remarked, "and even though we eat hot dogs and celebrate Christmas, we still drum and sing just as we’ve done for thousands of years. We still call ourselves, each in our own language. We, the Human Beings and we still make art just as we’ve done for thousands of years."(3)

Quick-to-See Smith also produced the print Cowboys and Indians, Made in America during this visit to WUCPW. This image draws attention to the problem of crime in the cities and the prevalence of guns on the streets.(4) Many people think of cowboys and Indians as a game, but Smith reveals that it is not. The real guns that were used killed people centuries ago and continue to kill people today.

Working on such a huge scale (Celebrate 40,000 Years of American Art and Cowboys and Indians, Made in America were each 79" high and 54" wide) was unnerving to Quick-to-See Smith. She had never printed on such a big press, but with her long-time friend Peter Marcus there to encourage her throughout the project, she was able to achieve work that is considered among her best. Marcus’ intention was for visiting artists, under his guidance, to venture into territory unknown to them. His constant presence saw to it that they would achieve the look that they sought using tools that were not always familiar. "Peter led the way," Quick-to-See Smith later observed.(5)

Marilyn Kushner
Curator and Chair of the Department of Prints, Drawings, and Photographs
Brooklyn Museum of Art
1 Island Press was originally known as the Washington University Collaborative Printmaking Workshop until the name was changed in 1996. Peter Marcus had met Quick-to-See Smith at a National Endowment for the Arts panel and subsequently invited her to work in St. Louis in the mid eighties.
2 The book was Sacred Art of the Algonquians: A Study of the Peterborough Petroglyphs by Joan Vastokas, with Romas Vastokas. Peterborough: Mansard Press, 1973. Petroglyphs are rock carvings.
4 Quick-to-See Smith had close relatives who had lost friends to gun violence.
5 Jaune Quick-to-See Smith to the author, February 18, 2002.