Museum of Contemporary Native Arts

C. Maxx Stevens

Three Graces, 2004, Mixed media installation, Dimensions variable, Courtesy of the Eiteljorg museum

Three Graces, 2004, Mixed media installation, Dimensions variable, Courtesy of the Eiteljorg museum

By Michelle McGeough

For C. Maxx Stevens, storytelling is an essential part of her artistic practice. Formally trained in sculpture and ceramics, she received her BFA from Wichita State University in 1979 and her MFA from Indiana University in 1987.  She is the recipient of numerous awards, including an Eiteljorg Fellowship (2005), the Andrea Frank Artist Foundation Award (2000), and the Joan Mitchell Foundation Inc., Painters and Sculptor Grant (1998).  She has also exhibited nationally and internationally.  Stevens was a part of the group exhibition Reservation X, curated by Gerald McMaster. In 2003 her work was exhibited at the University of Saskatchewan’s Gordon Snelgrove Gallery.

Although her practice includes mixed media, drawing, and printmaking, Stevens is best known for her installation work, in which she creates conceptual narrations of her life as a woman, an artist and a Seminole/ Muskogee person. Stevens describes her art as “a way to explore both my individual and collective identity, a way to share, beliefs, philosophy, a world, a past, family and culture.”[1]At the core of Stevens’s work is an understanding that culture, tradition, and identity are not static but reflect constantly changing circumstances, whether these changes are put into motion by our own volition or shaped by social, economic, or political conditions.

The role of political histories, and more specifically the role residential schools played in enacting governmental assimilation policies, is addressed by Stevens in If These Walls Could Talk, an installation for the exhibition Reservation X: The Power of Place (1999).  Reservation X was a pivotal exhibition that included the work of eleven Native American artists from both Canada and the United States. The installation not only confronts the legacy of the residential school system, but also interrogates the authority of history.  Stevens asks, “who and what defines us as native people, is it in a book or is it though stories?  Is it full of visions abstractly told in a tribal gathering or in a typed manuscript?  What is true and what is false, who questions what and when do we ask questions to challenge?”[2]

Stevens is interested in issues of identity: her own identity, how it relates to roles within her family and her community, and in particular, how it speaks to the role of women.  Stevens states “coming from a matriarchal society I have always felt a sense of responsibility, not just to my family but also to my community and culture. In many of my artworks I have drawn upon this belief of a cultural foundation based on lineage going from grandmothers to mothers to daughters. I have seen this strength in my mother and her sister and how this responsibility continues within my own family of seven sisters.”[3]In the installation The Gatherers: Seven Sisters (1999), Stevens constructs baskets of intricately woven willow branches. The baskets, suspended from the ceiling, cast shadows and shapes on the floor and walls, where light and dark interplay and overlap, visually recreating the complexities of human relationships. The loosely woven qualities of each basket belie a utilitarian purpose, but speak to their individuality. The complexity of the personalities, relationships and interplay of roles between Stevens and her two eldest sisters is examined more intimately in The Three Graces (2004). As the three eldest women of nine siblings, Stevens and her two sisters are the matriarchs, the decision makers, the ones who hold the stories and the traditions. Stevens sees her work as a visual record of herself as a woman, an Indigenous person and a contemporary artist.

The titles for her more recent installations, Sugar Heaven (2007) and What’s for Dinner (2007), are dark references to diabetes, a new epidemic that is decimating Native American communities, and to the economics and politics of food.  Presently Stevens is the area coordinator of the University of Colorado Foundation Arts Program as well a teacher and lecturer in the program.

Captured Memories, 2008, Mixed media installation, Dimensions variable, Courtesy of the Eiteljorg museum

Captured Memories, 2008, Mixed media installation, Dimensions variable, Courtesy of the Eiteljorg museum

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

[1] C. Maxx Stevens, artist’s statement.

[2] Art Libraries Society of North America 36th Annual Conference, Denver, CO, 2008. “Women Artists of the American West,”http://www.arlisna.org/news/conferences/2008/proceedings/ses_20-summary.pdf

[3] C. Maxx Stevens, letter to author, May 11, 2010.

Additional Resources compiled by students in Contemporary Native American Art History course at the Institute of American Indian Art, Spring 2013

Web-based Resources

Percy, Kendra, “House of Memory,” Exhibition Files, March 19, 2013 http://www.exhibitfiles.org/house_of_memory

Review of Stevens’ exhibition House of Memory

Singh, Abhilasha, “Conceptual Illustration,” Art Slant Santa Fe, December 4, 2011 http://www.artslant.com/sfe/articles/show/28899

Brief bio on Stevens’ and review of her exhibition Last Supper

Selected Bibliography

Hottage, James H. Into the Fray: The Eiteljorg Fellowship for the Native American Fine Art, 2005. University of Washington Press, 2005.

This book contains a biography along with works by Stevens while she was a part of the Eiteljorg Felowship.

Unlimited Boundaries: Dichotomy of Place in Contemporary Native American Art. Albuquerque Museum of Art and History, 2007

This book is about the exhibition Unlimited Boundaries: Dichotomy of Place in Contemporary Native American Art that Stevens was featured. This contains an artist statement followed by Stevens’ works and selected exhibitions.