Works of Rhonda Holy Bear and Chris Pappan Review - Two Complementary Exhibitions at the Field Museum

In 1990 November became “National American Indian Heritage Month.” The Field Museum opened two companion exhibitions this month which run from October 29, 2016, through January 13, 2019. These beautiful, spiritual exhibitions, Drawing on Tradition: Kanza Artist Chris Pappan and Full Circle/Omani Wakan: Lakota Artist Rhonda Holy Bear, are a joy to experience. The two new exhibitions, both located near the Museum’s permanent Native American galleries, invite visitors to engage with both historical and contemporary Native culture.

Full Circle

Weber Gallery

Entering the Weber Gallery, I observed the Full Circle/Omani Wakan: Lakota Artist Rhonda Holy Bear exhibition, and the dolls, the beadwork and the range of subjects presented, fascinated me. The story of Rhonda Holy Bear’s evolution as an artist, from her teens to the present day is also intriguing. The Lakota words “Omani Wakan” refer to a sacred journey—Holy Bear’s lifelong quest to understand more about her cultural and spiritual identity.  “When Holy Bear was a teenager, The Field Museum was an important place for her to learn about her heritage—she would come here and spend time with the artifacts behind the scenes in our collections,” explains Wali. “This exhibition marks her return to a place that’s meant a lot to her throughout her life.”


The Journey Begins

Rhonda Holy Bear and dress

Making with Exceptional Skills

Holy Bear’s artwork consists of intricately carved and beaded Native American figures that depict life on the Plains in the nineteenth century.  The exhibition brings together for the first time Holy Bear’s most significant works, including pieces that have been exhibited at world-renowned art museums.  Paired with objects selected from The Field Museum’s collection that inspired her, these detailed figures illuminate the depth of Plains cultures. “My figures represent my relatives, past, present, and future,” explains Holy Bear. “Without them, I could not be who I am today. My ancestors and their stories are connected like each vertebrae of my spine. I carry their story with me in my back. It’s a strong place to be.”


Famous doll

A few steps away from the Weber Gallery Chris Pappan’s work is designed to interact with displays that have been in place for years but they take on new life with Pappan’s works. Drawing on Tradition is a contemporary take on Native American ledger art, an art form developed in the nineteenth century when Native artists adapted their traditional buffalo hide paintings to paper ledgers when bison became scarce. Pappan draws with pencil on ledger paper, creating artwork that’s at once hyper-realistic and abstract. “The portraits he creates involve distortions—reflections, fish-eye lens effects, things that suggest that the image has been stretched or altered,” explains Alaka Wali, the Museum’s Curator of North American Anthropology.

Artist Chris Pappan


Chris Pappan- Ledger art -Kiowa Flapper

“My art reflects the persistence of the distorted perceptions of our people, while facilitating the evolution of contemporary Native American art and culture,” says Pappan.

More life

Commissioned gym shoes, Susan Neill, Exhibitions Project Manager

Old cases come to life

To complement this theme, and in addition to new and loaned pieces in the exhibition, some of Pappan's artwork are displayed at the Field as decals applied to the glass cases in the Museum’s Native American hall, which the Museum is raising funds to renovate. “Our permanent hall was originally created in the 1940s, and while the artifacts remain powerful, they need fresh interpretation,” says Wali. “Pappan’s artwork provides that—by superimposing his drawings over the existing cases, we’re able to show that Native culture is vibrant, alive, and ever-changing.”

Full Circle/Omani Wakan: Lakota Artist Rhonda Holy Bear is made possible by a generous donation from Joyce Chelberg."

"Drawing on Tradition: Kanza Artist Chris Pappan is supported in part by an award from the National Endowment for the Arts. To find out more about how NEA grants impact individuals and communities, visit the National Endowment for the Arts website



The Julian Grace Foundation provided support for the Chris Pappan exhibition and related

After I left the Field Museum, I stopped to see another of Holy Bear’s dolls at the Mitchell Museum of the American Indian where Holy Bear received an honor the next day.


Mitchell Museum display

Go to the Field Museum website for more information and tickets.


Photos: B. Keer unless otherwise noted.



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