As Meriwether Lewis and William Clark moved along the trail now named in their honor, they could not have foreseen how far-reaching would be the impact of their interaction with the land and its Native American inhabitants. Most of the commemorations and events marking the 200th anniversary of this journey deal with the retelling of the story of the expedition in historical terms. The Eiteljorg Museum wants to shine a light on the lasting effects of the expedition that still resonate today. In the exhibition Trailing Lewis and Clark, Featuring the Art of Ken Holder the Indianapolis museum tells the story in three voices: that of a contemporary artist inspired to retrace the expeditioners’ steps, that of historic artists inspired to capture the newly discovered beauty of the landscape, and that of historic and contemporary Native Americans, whose cultures were irrevocably altered by their contact with these representatives of the U.S. government.
Artist Ken Holder, inspired by Stephen Ambrose’s book, “Undaunted Courage: Meriwether Lewis, Thomas Jefferson and the Opening of the American West,” traveled the trail of Lewis and Clark. He was excited by the thought of creating his own “voyage of discovery” on the same trail that Lewis and Clark followed.
In 1996, he began painting the trail as it appears today. Though some of those areas are still pristine, in others there is the strong presence of man (e.g., dams, power plants and bridges). Holder says he was not out to show just the beauty, but to offer a realistic view of how the trail has changed.
“My goal was not to paint what Lewis and Clark had seen, but to paint the trail as it appears 200 years later,” said Holder in the book “Kenneth A. Holder.”
His work caught the attention of Jennifer Complo McNutt, curator of contemporary art at the Eiteljorg Museum, who has long been a fan of Holder and has exhibited his work in other exhibitions.
“Ken Holder’s Lewis and Clark series is a journey inspired by history and Ken’s insatiable creative spirit. His vision is fueled by the tradition of painting the American West and his contemporary sensibility,” she said. “Quiet, monumental, intimate and grand, his paintings reflect the brilliant range of color, texture and tenor one finds only with a mature and confident style.”
Holder wanted to show the remarkable changes in the landscapes of the trail after Lewis and Clark’s expedition. The Eiteljorg will show those changes and the impact of the years that followed by displaying the historic works of well-known Western artists Karl Bodmer and George Catlin, who painted along the trail just 25 years after Lewis and Clark ended their journey.
Native Americans also went through dramatic changes after Lewis and Clark, but their story is often told for them by outsiders. The Eiteljorg will explore Native American cultures then and now based on the perspectives and perceptions of Native Americans themselves.
The impact of their initial meetings with the Corps of Discovery was low. However, the influence and impact of the people who followed Lewis and Clark made a dramatic impact on the lives of Native Americans. The exhibition includes important artifacts on loan from the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian and selections from the Eiteljorg collection that illustrate these changes.
The contemporary point of view will be shown through artwork from Native American fine artists including some of the Eiteljorg’s past Fellowship artists Corwin “Corky” Clairmont (Salish/Kootenai Tribes) and Juane Quick-to-see Smith (Flathead).
“The history of the United States didn’t begin until Europeans started colonizing the Americas. And we (Native Americans) had 10,000 years or more of Indian culture and that is rarely discussed or talked about,” said Clairmont. “The Indian people always appear to be dispensable and having no cultural base. They are looked at as being in the way of colonization.”
Native Americans have always been a practical people, quick to adopt new materials and adapt them into their traditional activities. Unfortunately, the government promoted a dependency on the trade of the things that Native Americans could not make themselves, such as metals, guns and gunpowder, as a means of gaining control and ultimately taking their lands.
“In essence, for the tribes, the Lewis & Clark expedition was the beginning of the end,” said Ray Gonyea, the Eiteljorg’s curator of Native American art, history and culture.
See Trailing Lewis and Clark, Featuring the Art of Ken Holder at the Eiteljorg Museum Sept. 18 through Dec. 20, 2004. In conjunction with the exhibition, the Eiteljorg will sponsor many programs, allowing kids of all ages to engage themselves and become explorers.
Upriver into Sioux City, 1999.
Acrylic on canvas
7 1/2 x 36 inches
Courtesy of the artist.
Mouth of the Big Sioux River, 1833.
Watercolor and pencil on paper
8 3/8 x 14 ¾ inches.
Courtesy Joslyn Art Museum.