Earl Eder and Native American Abstract painting

Let me tell you how I was introduced to Earl Eder. I was reading the book “Action/Abstraction Redefined.” It changed my life.

I now feel as if I have been looking at Western art over the past six years with blinders on. It has raised my awareness of several artists in addition to providing me a new appreciation of Abstract art. 

It has caused my love and interpretation of not only Western art, but art in general, to grow by leaps and bounds. 

The book was published by the Institute of American Indian Arts Museum of Contemporary Native Arts (MoCNA) in 2018. According to the MoCNA website, it is the first exhibition catalog that analyzes modern Native American art inspired by Abstract Expression, Color Field, and hard-edge painting. It features paintings and works on paper from MoCNA’s permanent collection that were created in the 1960’s and 1970’s.

The book discusses artists such as Leon Polk Smith (Cherokee) and George Morrison (Ojibwe). It also includes a great section on Edna Massey (Cherokee).

The eye-opening moment for me, however, came when I read about Earl Eder (Yanktonai Sioux). 

Action Abstraction Redefined: Modern Native Art: 1940s to 1970s (IAIA MUSEUM OF)

After reading the section on him, I decided to Google his name to see what I could find. To be honest, there wasn’t much, but what I did find was exciting. 

About Earl Eder

I read in an interview with Alfred Young Man (Cree) that during his years at IAIA, Earl Eder was in a band with other IAIA students: T.C. Cannon (Caddo/Kiowa), Kevin Red Star (Crow) and Young Man himself. 

He became more known for his sculpture work after studying at the San Francisco Art Institute.

Then I found a link to a 1972 “Art in America” article titled “23 Contemporary Indian Artists” by Lloyd Oxendine (Lumbee) which, according to the “Art in America” website, “was the first major survey of Native Art to appear in a national magazine.”

It felt like an important article. I ended up finding and purchasing a pristine copy of the actual 1972 “Art in America” magazine.

The pinnacle of my research was discovering a painting of Eder’s for sale on eBay in Hudson, New York. The painting was a 36”x 30” acrylic on canvas titled Rimrock Series #1 completed in 1980.

I’m hesitant when it comes to buying art on eBay that costs more than a hundred dollars. I decided to look around and see if I could find any way to verify the work.

To my surprise, I could only locate a couple of his paintings on the internet, one of which is the collection of MoCNA, titled Keeper of the Flame. It is a 30.5”x 30.5” oil on canvas completed in 1980.

Not exactly like the one on eBay, but completed in a similar enough style.

At this point, I felt I had enough information to take the risk.

After the painting arrived, I reached out to the IAIA via Instagram (@iaia), and they were able to provide me a little more information on Earl Eder.

  • Born in 1944 in Poplar, Montana
  • Studied at the Institute of American Indian Arts from 1962-1965
    • Allan Houser was one of his instructors
  • Studied at San Francisco Art Institute 1965-1970 BFA
  • Studied at University of Montana 1970-1971
  • Won several awards for sculpture between 1967–1982
  • Won Artist of the Year by “Santa Fe Magazine” in 1982

The IAIA was also able to provide me a photo of another painting from Earl Eder’s Rimrock Series they are a steward for titled Rimrock Series ’85.

Next, I reached out to the person I bought the painting from and the gentleman said he acquired the painting a couple years ago from his wife’s parents, who owned the piece for “decades”.

With all the information I have learned over the past few weeks, I am completely ecstatic about my purchase.

Understanding Native American Abstract art

To be honest I still am not exactly sure how to understand the painting. I find myself staring at it going “is that a tree or a boulder?” 

It does not matter. I love it.

This entire experience has opened my eyes to Abstract art, the importance of the IAIA, and more specific, their 1960’s era of artists and faculty.

Since purchasing the painting I have continued my education in this arena. I recently finished the book Native Moderns: American Indian Painting, 1940-1960, by Bill Anthes, which contains a more in-depth look at George Morrison. The book also introduced me to Oscar Howe (Yanktonai Sioux) and Walter Richard “Dick” West Sr. (Southern Cheyenne). I am now reading about Allan Houser (Chiricahua Apache).

Native Moderns: American Indian Painting, 1940–1960 (Objects/Histories)

If you have any other book recommendations, please let me know

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