These Boots, “This Land”
New at the Hood Museum
You can start by climbing to the second floor to stand before the boots, or you can begin on the first floor and save them for last. They are but one of the works of art in the Hood Museum’s just opened exhibition, "THIS LAND: AMERICAN ENGAGEMENT WITH THE NATURAL WORLD.”
Created by fashion designer and artist Jamie Okuma, these boots (photo, top) were commissioned by the Hood. Titled “Peep,” this work of art honors a California scrub jay of the same name who became part of Okuma’s family after it made its way to the artist’s childhood home and stubbornly refused to return to the wild. Peep shared the family’s life and home for 26 years.
That might be story enough, but there’s more. These glass beaded boots took an unexpected detour on their journey from the artist’s hands to their destined home at the Hood Museum. Deb Haaland, current Secretary of the Interior and the first Native American cabinet Secretary, wore the boots for an interview with InStyle Magazine. Jami Powell, curator of Indigenous art at the Hood, reveals how this came to be in this short video (click here), with a link also to the InStyle article and stunning photo shoot in Washington DC, where Haaland was dressed in clothing by Native American designers and some items of her own.
As for the remainder of this exhibition, it is filled with 160 works of art that connect to earth and place. In the first gallery, behind glass doors and visible from the museum’s atrium, Louis Gill’s early 20th century birch bark canoe (below) must hold within it a remarkable history. (As the sign says, “please do not touch,” though you will want to.)
Such an antidote to the pandemic isolation and cabin fever, this beautiful compendium of art and artifacts! My own strategy for dealing with the richness of this exhibition was to enter, take a deep breath, and from the very beginning, promise myself that I would return. That way every work that did not immediately grab my full attention was reserved for a second visit and I relinquished the anxiety of missing out. And on a related note, as sizeable as this exhibition may be, there are other exhibitions (more to come on Artful) that you will brush up against during a visit to the Hood, such as Southern Gothic—just opened on January 8th—and Both Sides of the Lens: Portrait Photography (from a collection by Raph and Jane Bernstein) featuring portraits of the famous and not, by renowned photographers including Walker Evans, Mathew Brady and Annie Leibovitz.
(For more information about this and other exhibitions at the Hood Museum, including tours, click here to access its website. Vogue ran a short article with further details about the bird, Peep.)
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And in case you are wondering . . . Susan B. Apel shuttered a lifelong career as a law professor to continue an interest (since kindergarten) in writing. Her freelance business, The Next Word, includes literary and feature writing; her work has appeared in a variety of lit mags and other publications including Art New England, The Woven Tale Press, The Arts Fuse, and Persimmon Tree. She connects with her neighbors through Artful, her blog about arts and culture in the Upper Valley. She’s in love with the written word.