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March 06, 2023

Acquisition: “Sentinels (Large Yellow)” by G. Peter Jemison

G. Peter Jemison, "Sentinels (Large Yellow)"

G. Peter Jemison
Sentinels (Large Yellow), 2006
acrylic, oil, and collage on canvas
overall: 91.44 x 101.6 cm (36 x 40 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington
Gift of Funds from Sharon Percy Rockefeller and Senator John Davison Rockefeller IV

The National Gallery of Art has acquired its first work by G. Peter Jemison (Seneca Nation of Indians, Heron Clan, b. 1945), a deeply respected and influential Native American artist. Sentinels (Large Yellow) (2006) reflects the relationship of Native Americans to the land and the continuing stewardship of the Creator’s gifts. By visualizing land-based knowledge systems, Jemison’s art celebrates the multifaceted culture, beliefs, and history of the Haudenosaunee, or Six Nations, that comprise the Iroquois Confederacy.
Jemison’s overall practice embodies Orenda, a traditional Haudenosaunee belief that every living thing and every part of creation contains a spiritual force. This belief is evident in Jemison’s landscapes, with the remains of summer plantings casting shadows against the winter snow. Dried sunflowers, a reminder of the natural markers of the seasons, figure prominently in Sentinels (Large Yellow). The white linear patterns that cover the sunny landscape echo those used in Seneca beadwork and create a link between people and the land. These designs flatten the visual plane and disturb the hierarchies of foreground, middle ground, and background—an idea often expressed in Native American landscape compositions to signify balance. To connect the subject of the land with the materials of the artwork, Jemison added leaves into the handmade paper that he collaged near the bottom middle of the canvas. In addition, he glued small individual leaves onto the canvas and then painted over them.

Jemison received his fine art education from the University of Siena, Italy, before earning a B.S. in Arts Education from Buffalo State College, where he was awarded an Honorary Doctorate in Fine Arts in 2003. The artist refers to himself as a “cultural arts worker” whose practice balances curatorial pursuits, activism, speaking engagements, writing, editing, and art making. His leadership on behalf of his fellow Native Americans has also extended to administrative roles, including his position as founding director of the American Indian Community House Gallery in New York from 1978 to 1985. He has since served as Historic Site Manager at Ganondagan in Victor, New York, the center for preservation and learning about Haudenosaunee culture. In addition, Jemison is a Seneca Faithkeeper, served as the Indian Tribes representative on the Federal Advisory Council on Historic Preservation during the administration of President George W. Bush, acts as the Seneca Nation representative for the Native American Graves, Protection and Repatriation Act committee, and is a trustee for the National Museum of the American Indian.

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