Feds accuse Missouri man of posing as Indian to sell art

Whetstone 3

By Tony Rizzo, The Kansas City Star

The tradition of Native American art is as rich and varied as the many tribes of North America.

And many collectors and aficionados willingly pay premium prices for it.

But that also makes buyers susceptible to counterfeiters — people willing to risk violating the federal law that prohibits non-Indian artists from marketing their creations as the handiwork of an Indian.

According to federal prosecutors, an Odessa, Mo., man did just that by falsely portraying himself as a Cherokee artist while selling his artwork online.

Federal prosecutors in Kansas City recently charged Terry Lee Whetstone, 62, with misrepresentation of Indian-produced goods and products, a misdemeanor that is punishable by up to a year imprisonment.

Neither Whetstone nor his lawyer responded to requests for comment, and he is not a member of the federally recognized Cherokee Nation, according to records of the Oklahoma-based tribe.

But he is an enrolled member of the Northern Cherokee Nation, according to Chief Kenn Grey Elk.

And while that nation is not federally recognized, it is officially recognized by the state of Missouri, according to Grey Elk.

That, according to Grey Elk, would qualify Whetstone as an Indian under federal law.

Federal prosecutors declined to comment about the charges beyond the information contained in court documents.

Whetstone’s website no longer functions. But for more than a decade, it cited his Cherokee heritage in advertising his music, painting, sculptures and jewelry.

He was raised in suburban Kansas City, according to his online biography, and performed flute music at numerous events around Kansas City. For years, his website claimed that his artwork could be found in many galleries and private collections — and even at The Smithsonian museum gift shop in Washington, D.C.

Whetstone 2

Federal prosecutors in Kansas City said they could not recall a similar case being filed in recent memory under the Indian Arts and Crafts Act of 1990.

But the phenomenon is enough of a problem nationwide that a special board under the auspices of the U.S. Department of the Interior has monitored the art world since 1935 to ensure that art marketed as Indian is authentic.

“While the beauty, quality, and collectability of authentic Indian art and craftwork make each piece a unique reflection of our American heritage, it is important that buyers be aware that fraudulent Indian art and craftwork competes daily with authentic Indian art and craftwork in the nationwide marketplace,” the Indian Arts and Crafts Board states on its website.

Federal law does not prevent non-Indians from producing Indian-style artwork. But only a member of an officially recognized Indian tribe, or a person certified as an Indian artist by a tribe, is allowed to market products as Indian-produced.

The law covers a variety of traditional and contemporary arts and crafts.

According to the Indian Arts and Crafts Board, items frequently copied by non-Indians include jewelry, pottery, baskets, carvings, rugs, Kachina dolls and clothing.

“These counterfeits undermine the market for authentic Indian art and craftwork and severely undercut Indian economies, self-determination, cultural heritage and the future of an original American treasure,” according to the Indian Arts and Crafts Board.

For legitimate Native American artists, the law is an important way to protect their cultural identity and livelihoods.

Counterfeiters “are appropriating a culture that’s not theirs,” said George Levi, an Oklahoma artist of Cheyenne-Arapaho descent.

Levi likened the crime to people who profit from counterfeiting the work of big-name fashion designers. Every piece of artwork sold as authentic by a non-Indian takes money away from a legitimate Indian artist, he said.

“They’re just trying to make a buck off of us,” Levi said.

The court documents filed in Whetstone’s case do not specify what type of artwork he sold.

But cached versions of the website listed in court documents featured his Indian-themed paintings and music. The site also showed pictures of Whetstone playing a flute and described him as a “self-taught, talented American Indian flute performer and multi-faceted artist.”

It said that he “reflects the history of his Cherokee heritage in his music and art.”

Last year, he received an award from the Indie Music Channel. In an award ceremony YouTube video, he identifies himself as “mixed-blood Cherokee.”

Whetstone listed his race as white on a 1997 Jackson County marriage license application that gave the option of marking white, black, American Indian or other.

For purposes of complying with the Indian art law, the artist must be an enrolled member of a tribe officially recognized by the federal government or a state. It is unclear whether Grey Elk’s assertion that Whetstone is a member with the Northern Cherokee Nation will have any impact on the federal case.

A person can be certified as a nonmember artist if they are “of Indian lineage of one or more members of a particular tribe,” and they have written authorization from the tribe’s governing body.

The Cherokee Nation carefully authenticates the tribal status of all artists whose work is displayed in galleries and gift shops, said Donna Tinnin, community tourism manager for the tribe.

Ensuring artwork’s authenticity is important for educating people about the specific traditions and history of each tribe, Tinnin said.

“Each tribe has their own story and their own styles of artwork,” she said.

Johnny Learned, president of the American Indian Center of the Great Plains, said he was glad to see the federal government taking action.

Learned said he finds it “interesting” that more people seemed to claim to be Indians as economic opportunities such as casinos expanded for Native Americans.

“I think there should be even more stringent rules that prohibit that,” he said.

To reach Tony Rizzo, call 816-234-4435 or send email to trizzo@kcstar.com.

Read more here: http://www.kansascity.com/news/local/crime/article25737253.html#storylink=cpy

Native arts, crafts show marks half-century

By Kate Prengaman, Yakima Herald-Republic

TOPPENISH, Wash. — Lydia Johnson wanted to support Indian artists and craftsmen to keep tribal traditions alive, so she helped to organize a small local show.

The Spilyay-Mi Native American Arts and Crafts club celebrates its 50th annual event this Saturday and Sunday at the Yakama Nation Cultural Center in Toppenish.

The event has grown and changed since its origins at the Wapato Presbyterian Church, said Johnson, a 93-year-old retired public health nurse from Wapato and member of the Umatilla tribe.

“The reason we keep doing it is because it has evolved to kind of a community function now,” Johnson said. “We’ve done different things, Indian fashion shows, best-dressed baby contests … but the objective is still to encourage Indian artists.”

The event has had many homes around the Yakima Valley and welcomed many Indian artists from around the region, but interest has waned over the years and now the club that organizes the event only has about a dozen active members, according to current president Joyce Manship.

“It’s been harder and harder to keep active members; we’re looking for younger members to keep arts tradition alive,” Manship said.

Manship, 63, is a retired nurse living in Ephrata who got involved as a vendor at first, invited by her brother, who teaches art at Grandview High School. She does bead and leather work in part to honor her Tlingit heritage.

“I’m pretty much self-taught, but my mother and my grandmothers all did traditional artwork,” Manship said. “As a young person, I used to see this really cool Native artwork and I couldn’t afford it, so I learned how to make it.”

There will be lots of bead work for sale and on display this weekend, along with silver jewelry, paintings and wood carvings. Best-dressed baby contests and afternoon performances by local dancers and the Seattle-based Haida Lass dance troupe will also be offered.

The dances play an important role in preserving the arts and crafts, Johnson said. The dancers need moccasins and beaded clothing to perform, which supports the artisans.

Supporting traditions, Johnson said, is even more important now than when she founded Spilyay-Mi in 1964.

To attract more artists, the club decided to open the show to nontribal members. It’s good to have new faces, because some longtime participants have passed away or are in fading health, she added.

Even the spelling of the club’s name has changed slightly over the years, but not the meaning.

The name was suggested at the first organizing meeting by a man who never came back, Johnson said, but the name Spilyay-Mi, meaning “of coyote,” stuck.

“Coyote is in a lot of Indian legends and in a lot of cases he’s not a very good guy,” Johnson said, laughing. “But we named it according to the good things he did. In this case, he was credited with helping the people make baskets and things like that.”

McClung prehistoric statue set to be state’s official artifact

By Amy McRary, Knoxville News Sentinel

41231_t607KNOXVILLE – Tennessee’s got a state bird, a state flower, a pair of state rocks and several state songs. So why not a state artifact?

That designation likely will soon go to an ancient figure at the University of Tennessee’s McClung Museum of Natural History and Culture.

The 700-year-old Native American sandstone statue is called “Sandy” by the museum and is often used as a symbol for the center. It’s an ancient sandstone figure of a kneeling, older man carved sometime between 1250 and 1350 AD. The 18-inch figure from prehistory’s Mississippian period likely represents a chief.

“Sandy” was found in a Wilson County farm field in 1939. It’s on exhibit as part of the McClung’s permanent exhibit, “Archaeology and the Native Peoples of Tennessee.”

A bill that would make Sandy the official state artifact passed the state Senate and House and awaits Gov. Bill Haslam’s signature. The bills were introduced by legislators at the request of the Tennessee Council for Professional Archaeology.

“Naming Sandy as an official Tennessee symbol acknowledges the state’s ancient past, and will encourage Tennesseans to learn more about and work to help preserve our shared history,” TCPA President Tanya Peres, a Middle Tennessee State University associate professor of anthropology, said in an announcement about the bill’s passing. “Listing Sandy as the state artifact also honors the legacy and accomplishments of Native Americans who lived in Tennessee for more than 10,000 years before the arrival of European settlers.”

“The McClung Museum is thrilled to receive this recognition of Sandy and our museum,” said McClung Director Jeff Chapman. “Sandy is such an important example of prehistoric Native American art, and we are proud to be the stewards of this piece of Tennessee history.”

3rd Annual Coast Salish Winter Festival Arts and Crafts Market

Lummi Gateway Presents 3rd Annual Coast Salish Winter Festival Arts and Crafts Market
Fridays 12:00-6:00 and Saturdays 10:00-4:00

November 29-30

December 6-7

December 13-14

December 29-21

Find exclusive and unique hand crafted gifts, traditional art work, sold by Lummi Community members. These events are open to the public, everyone is so very welcomed.

360-306-8554

360-325-3426

More information here.

Why Native American Art Doesn’t Belong in the American Museum of Natural History

The Hall of Plains Indians exhibit at the American Museum of Natural History. Source: amnh.org

The Hall of Plains Indians exhibit at the American Museum of Natural History. Source: amnh.org

Katherine Abu Hadal, Indian Country Today Media Network

Natural history museums—they are all over the US and abroad too. They house amazing dinosaur fossils, exotic hissing cockroaches, and wondrous planetariums—right next to priceless human-designed art and artifacts created by Native peoples of the Americas.

Like me, you might wonder why these designed objects are juxtaposed with objects of nature such as redwood trees and precious metal exhibits. Yes, of course art is part of the natural world that we live in—but then, why are there no Picasso paintings or Degas sculptures on display in the American Museum of Natural History?

How is a Haida mask different from an ancient Egyptian sarcophagus in its precision and intent? They both belong to the category that we call art and they deserve to be exhibited in a similar manner.

When Native American, Pacific, and African art and artifact is lumped in with natural history exhibits, it sends a message that these groups are a part of the “natural” world. That the art they produce is somehow less cultured and developed than the western art canon. It also sends the message that they are historical, an element of the romantic past, when in reality these peoples are alive and well, with many traditions intact and new traditions happening all the time.

Another thing we don’t need in order to look at and understand Native American art are dioramas of Native Americans in the actual exhibit. Dioramas only serve to confuse the public and enforce already present stereotypes. It’s offensive and demeaning and it detracts from the art. There are no dioramas of Greek or Roman life in fine art museums. Dioramas can muddy the experience by placing a contemporary interpretation of a life that we do not have firsthand knowledge of. Furthermore, they are simply tacky, taking an art display into the realm of Madame Tussaud’s .

How exactly the museum acquired its collections is another important question and one not answered by my research. The museum website does note the following about its anthropology collections:

“The founding of the Museum’s anthropology program in 1873 is linked by many with the origins of research anthropology in the United States. With the enthusiastic financial support of Museum President Morris K. Jesup, Boas undertook to document and preserve the record of human cultural variation before it disappeared under the advance of Europe’s Industrial Revolution. Their expeditions resulted in the formation during the late 19th and early 20th centuries of the core of the Museum’s broad and outstanding collection of artifacts.” (American Museum of Natural History, retrieved 2.15.2013)

Let’s consider other ways Native American art could be exhibited to the benefit of the public and Native peoples themselves. First, ancient art and artifact could be displayed next to contemporary Native art in order to show that Native cultures are not just a thing of the past, but are in fact living and dynamic. Or curators could more deeply consider the way these objects were used in context—that is, elaborate on the significance of the pieces to their makers; certainly they were not designed for the purpose of one day sitting in a natural history museum. As another option, the pieces could be placed under the control of contemporary Native groups who would decide how they should be exhibited. That has been met with controversy in some cases.

I know that it will not be easy or convenient to redesign the exhibition of Native art, but the current state of display at the American Museum of Natural History is embarrassing and ineffective in communicating the complexity of non-western art. The American Museum of Natural History and its collections are a product of an era much different than the present day. It’s time that the collections reflected the wishes of their creators and also current aesthetic and ethnic discourse.

Katherine Abu Hadal is a designer and researcher who loves learning and teaching about other cultures. One of her interests is Native American/Indigenous art. You can read more of her thoughts on Native art at nativeamericanartschool.com, where this piece was first published as “Why Native American Art doesn’t belong in the American Museum of Natural History (and neither does African or Asian art).”

 

Read more at http://indiancountrytodaymedianetwork.com/2013/02/20/why-native-american-art-doesnt-belong-american-museum-natural-history-147792