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Catching the Eye of Museums: The Evocative Art of Chris Pappan

July 18th, 2017

Over the course of an artist’s development, it is well known that drawing the attention of museum curators signifies growing regard for a body of work. It’s an important acknowledgment of craftsmanship and originality. It’s no surprise that the list of museums featuring and often acquiring Chris Pappan’s evocative artworks continues to grow.

When Chicago’s prominent Field Museum of Natural History developed their present multimedia exhibition, “Drawing on Tradition,” curator Alaka Wali wanted to explore how we look at Native Americans as artists and keepers of culture and provide an answer to the question of how traditions must change in order to survive. She chose to include 17 of Pappan’s drawings and paintings. His work takes a dramatic leap from early 19th-century ledger drawings to fresh interpretation of historic Native American topics. Says Wali, his pieces “are at once beautiful works of art and brilliant commentaries on the political and cultural treatment of Native peoples   [they] invite viewers to be part of a larger conversation on where we’ve been and where we might go.” 

In Bar Harbor, Maine, the contemporary Abbe museum’s critically acclaimed “Twisted Path” exhibition is back. Titled “Vital Signs,” it is an invitational show featuring art work that reflects personal stories about tribal identity and balancing life in a complex world. Chris Pappan is one of only a select handful of artists chosen to participate based on the aesthetics of his work, his ability and willingness to tell stories through art, and the unique and contemporary nature of his form. His piece In God’s Image, a pencil/graphite map collage on 1890s institutional ledger, is a headline banner for the exhibition. 

Moving westward to Montana, Missoula Art Museum’s one-man solo exhibition Ghost Images highlights the work of Chris Pappan. Chosen for his highly skilled photorealistic portraiture as well as his imaginative ability to depict elements other than physical features, the show investigates “how a contemporary American Indian artist creates work that operates on a metaphysical register and provides a link between the physical and the transcendent.”

These three museums are but the latest well-regarded institutions to recognize Chris Pappan’s unique and growing ability as an artist and a cultural commentator. In addition  to inclusion in private collections around the globe, his art has received attention from a long list of other museums, including such notables as the National Museum of the American Indian in both Washington DC and New York City and the North American Native Museum in Zurich, Switzerland.


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