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Know the West

Picturing Native American Culture

  If you watched any television in the 1970s, you'll recall the "Keep America Beautiful" campaign featuring Iron Eyes Cody - the Indian actor whose image, with a tear rolling down his wrinkled cheek, persuaded us to put litter in its place. His teary eye taught our society more than was ever intended - it helped create a distorted notion of what Native Americans look like today. A photograph of Cody's modern-day war bonnet, two feet tall and replete with feathers and beadwork, is among the contemporary culture icons featured in the pages of Powerful Images: Portrayals of Native America, a 144-page collection of five essays and lovingly reproduced color photographs. From their collections, museums around the West have chosen photos of everything from Hollywood movie posters to 100-year-old Lakota beadwork to show what shaped our society's understanding of Indian culture. In an essay titled "Powerful Images: Art and Plains of the Southwest," Emma Hansen, a Pawnee, writes that "North American Indian languages have no equivalent word for "art." "''''It's an ironic revelation, given that this book's pages are filled with art, including photos of a Salish cradleboard from Montana and a southern Arapaho ghost-dance shirt of ornately painted buffalo hide.

Powerful Images: Portrayals of Native America, $29.95, is published by Museums West in association with the University of Washington Press, Box 50096, Seattle, WA 98145-5096 (800/441-4115).

* Dustin Solberg