Brother Simon would be amused, we think.
The late Jesuit brother who helped organize the first Red Cloud Indian Art Show in 1969, had a sense of humor, even though it could be hard to locate his smile under his overgrown handlebar mustache and long gray beard.
C.M. Simon, SJ, died unexpectedly in 2006, but not before he had spent 42 years building The Heritage Center on the campus of the Red Cloud Indian School just outside of Pine Ridge into an impressive repository of Native American art.
He did so by collecting traditional Lakota art, as well as fine art by other tribal artists, including plenty of pieces by young emerging artists, some of whom he was betting would become the next generation's Oscar Howe, so to speak.
Others, well, he just liked what he saw. But whenever I spoke with him about the Red Cloud art show, it was obvious that he had a well-developed sense of the Native art world.
What, I wondered aloud to the young Lakota woman who now does Br. Simon's job, would he think of this year's winner of the Br. C. M. Simon, SJ Award? That award comes with a $550 cash prize and the honor of having the artwork published on the publicity poster for next year's show, said Mary Bordeaux, curator of The Heritage Cener.
This year, it went to Hoka Skenandore, a young Oklahoma artist whose artistic career began with graffiti painting, some of it no doubt illegal, before he went on to graduate from the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe. N.M., Bordeaux said.
The winning piece is a colorful collage of pop art images painted in acrylic on a vinyl LP.
"I think he would like it," said Bordeaux of the non-traditional piece. "Br. Simon had a great sense of humor."
It's not exactly tipis and buffalo and dream catchers on ledger paper. But Bordeaux is not your typical museum curator, either. She has gauge-stretched ear lobes, colorful tattoos and a master of fine arts degree in museum-exhibition planning and design to go with them.
I tend to agree with Bordeaux, and I'm happy to see that, as curator of the Heritage Center, she's continuing Br. Simon's mission to collect, preserve and exhibit the fine arts of Native Americans as a way to appreciate the culture, even as it changes and evolves.
We drove down to Red Cloud, just outside of Pine Ridge village, to see the 45th annual show recently. As always, I was happy that I made the nearly two-hour trip from Rapid City. This year, I didn't come home with any new artwork by a talented young artist, but much of the 163-piece art show was interesting; some of it was beautiful. But I didn't find anything this year that I like as much as I like Eric Pourier's "Moon of the Popping Trees," a wildly colorful landscape that I bought at the art show years ago for what I think was $100. It is still one of my favorite things.
If you visit the Red Cloud show, which is open daily now through Aug. 11, you'll get to see the work of young artists such as Charles Lee Her Many Horses from Rosebud.
I know it's Father's Day, but it is Her Many Horses's large, striking portrait of his pediatrician mother, Dr. Lucy Reifel, that carried this year's art show for me. Wrapped in a Lakota star quilt, Reifel is holding an otoscope, a tool of her trade. Her weathered, expressive face exudes confidence and compassion. There's little wonder that the painting won the Powers Award for the best representation of a Native American woman.
I couldn't afford its $1,200 price tag, but that's OK. It was purchased for the Heritage Center's permanent collection, and I think it is exactly where it belongs.
All of the art, however, had a tough time competing with the natural beauty of the Pine Ridge landscape on a fine spring day. Its harshest flaws had been softened by plentiful rainfall and a new coat of lush green grass everywhere. And as usual, the trail that leads up a short hill to Holy Rosary Mission's cemetery beckoned me, to a place where 125 years of Catholic clergy, religious and Lakota people are buried. There you'll find not only Br. Simon's grave, but Chief Red Cloud's as well. I also found a profound sense that the two men, separated as they were by years and race and culture, both loved the Oglala Lakota people, their culture and their art.