Photo: Installation view of Love Letters to the Collection in the Lynda M. Frost Contemporary American Indian Art Gallery

Love Letters To The Collection

March 2 2020 - December 31 2020

MAM believes that if a single artwork can depict the ideas of an individual artist, then a collection of art can embody the character of a community. The MAM Collection has the power to tell us about our distinctive regional and indigenous communities. But in 1998, the collection was not that inclusive—it didn’t represent the work of Indigenous artists in an accurate or vital way. In response, MAM created the Contemporary American Indian Art Collection (CAIAC). Over the next two decades, this collection grew to one of the largest of its kind in the region. MAM also expanded the presence of Indigenous artists in programming so that now Native voices and tribal partnerships are integral to exhibits and education.

Love Letters to the Collection continues this commitment to amplify diverse voices and honor the richness of indigenous cultures. The exhibit is distinguished with an “active” approach. This bold philosophical commitment rouses acquisitions from long-term storage and ensures they support museum-wide engagement goals. Love Letters is designed to use the CAIAC to stimulate and share previously unheard stories that make up the living narrative of art history.

The exhibit opened with artworks from MAM’s Contemporary American Indian Art Collection selected by guest curators. The exhibit will grow over the year as different guest curators—artists, writers, poets, community members, local and tribal leaders, activists, scholars, students, and others—select new works to add to the installation, share their thoughts about the artworks and suggest other curators.

Every viewer is invited to write a ‘love letter’ to the artworks on view. Viewers can also send emails, share ideas through postcards provided in the gallery, or share on social media with the hashtag #mamloveletters. MAM anticipates these many responses will reveal a dynamic web of interpretations. MAM will include postcards in the exhibit and add stories, keywords, and other associations to collection records, allowing researchers and any curious user of MAM’s searchable online database to find unexpected connections and more significant meanings.

Love Letters takes a gentle but decidedly non-neutral position in MAM’s ongoing journey toward inclusiveness. MAM acknowledges that the very concept of museums and presumptions of authority is rooted in colonial traditions of conquest and capital. When MAM welcomes more diverse voices, it destabilizes long-unquestioned power structures, such as the academic hierarchy of descriptive museum language. Listening to audiences helps MAM remove some of the obstacles inherent in museum practices.

A free virtual learning course about this exhibition is available to all! Click here to learn more.

Poetry reading: Watch four guest selectors for this exhibit read their love letters!

What does decolonization mean? Watch this webinar!

Current selections:


Celebrate 40,000 Years of American Art by Jaune Quick-to-See Smith (Salish-Kootenai, Métis-Cree, Shoshone-Bannock) was selected by art historian and curator Carolyn Kastner. Read her love letter here. Write to this piece at 40000Yrs@missoulaartmuseum.org.

[image: Jaune Quick-to-See Smith (Salish-Kootenai, Métis-Cree, Shoshone-Bannock), Celebrate 40,000 Years of American Art, collagraph, 1995, 71.5 x 47.5 inches. MAM Contemporary American Indian Art Collection, donated by the artist, copyright the artist, 2006.16.03.] 

Gorge Spirits Floating 2 by Lillian Pitt (Wasco, Yakama, Warm Springs) was selected by Martin Leibinger. Read his love letter here. Write to this piece at gorgespirits@missoulaartmuseum.org.

[image: Lillian Pitt (Wasco/Yakama/Warm Springs), Gorge Spirits Floating 2, monotype, 2019, 22 x 30 inches. MAM Contemporary American Indian Art Collection, gift of MATRIX Press, copyright the artist, 2019.16.01. 

Family Watch by Donna Loos (Little Shell, 1931–2018) was selected by Chris La Tray. Read his love letter here. Write to the piece at FamilyWatch@missoulaartmuseum.org

[image: Donna Loos (Little Shell, 1931−2018), Family Watch, acrylic on canvas, 2001, 43.75 x 63.5.” MAM Contemporary American Indian Art Collection, donated by the artist, copyright the estate of Donna Loos, 2018.14.]


Merry Christmas Missoula Art Museum by Rick Bartow (Mad River Wiyot, 1946–2016) was selected by a group of MAM docents. Read their letter here. Want to write to this piece? Send a note to merryxmas@missoulaartmuseum.org.

[image: Rick Bartow (Mad River Wiyot, 1946−2016), Merry Christmas Missoula Art Museum, charcoal and pastel on paper, 2011, 40 x 26 1⁄2 inches, MAM Contemporary American Indian Art Collection, donated by the artist, copyright the estate of Rick Bartow, 2012.01.]


Crow Indian Girl by Kevin Red Star (Crow) was selected by Lynda M. Frost. Watch her contribution here. Write to this piece: CrowIndianGirl@missoulaartmuseum.org

[image: Kevin Red Star (Crow), Crow Indian Girl, acrylic on canvas, 2009, 16 x 20 inches. MAM Contemporary American Indian Art Collection, Gift of Mason Miller in memory of Merida Red Star-Miller, 2010.09.]


Flatlander: Red Cloud Rd.
by John Hitchcock (Comanche, Kiowa, German/Dutch) was selected by Cory Walsh. Read his love letter here. Write to this piece: flatlander@missoulaartmuseum.org

[image: John Hitchcock (Comanche, Kiowa, German/Dutch), Flatlander: Red Cloud Rd., Screenprint with handwork, 2017, 30 x 22 inches. MAM Contemporary American Indian Art Collection, gift of MATRIX Press, 2017.20.07., copyright the artist, image courtesy of MATRIX Press.]


Split War Shield by Corwin Clairmont (Salish-Kootenai) was selected by Cameron Decker. Read his love letter here. Write to this piece: shield@missoulaartmuseum.org

During the summer of 2020, MAM partnered with StoryCorps to record conversations focused on some of the artists featured in Love Letters to the Collection. Listen to Cameron Decker and Corwin Clairmont discuss Split War Shield here

[image: Corwin Clairmont (Salish-Kootenai), Split War Shield, cast, handmade paper, lithographs, and mixed media, 2001, 83¼ x 50¾ x 3¼ inches. MAM Contemporary American Indian Art Collection, purchase and partial gift of the artist, copyright the artist, 2007.01.]


Epicenters and Impact
by Molly Murphy Adams (Oglala, Lakota) was selected by Melissa Kwasny and Mandy Smoker Broaddus, the Montana state poet laureates. Read their poems here. Write to this piece: Epicenters@missoulaartmuseum.org

[image: Molly Murphy Adams (Oglala, Lakota), Epicenters and Impact, beadwork on vintage map, 2018, 42.5 x 44 inches, MAM Contemporary American Indian Art Collection, promised gift of the artist, copyright the artist.]


Forced North
by Molly Murphy Adams (Ogala, Lakota) was selected by Heather Cahoon (Confederated Salish & Kootenai Tribes), assistant professor at the University of Montana and poet. Read her love letter here. 

[image: Molly Murphy Adams (Oglala, Lakota), Forced North, beadwork and ribbon on hand-dyed wool, 2008, 54 x 40 inches. MAM Contemporary American Indian Art Collection, purchased in part with a gift from John Fletcher, copyright the artist, 2008.09.]

Wow! Full Blooded White People! by Dwyane Wilcox (Oglala Lakota) was selected by Mike Jetty (Spirit Lake Dakota Nation). Jetty is the Indian Education Specialist at the Montana State Office of Public Instruction. Read his love letter here. Write to this piece at whitepeople@missoulaartmuseum.org. 

[image: Wow! Full Blooded White People!, colored pencil on ledger paper, 2012, 11 x 17 inches. MAM Contemporary American Indian Art Collection, purchased with a grant from the Pleiades Foundation, photo courtesy of Carl Basner, copyright the artist, 2012.15.09.]