—The Spiro site in Oklahoma contained some of the most extraordinary ancient Native American works ever discovered in the United States—
Dallas, TX—February 17, 2022—Over 1,000 years ago, Mississippian peoples comprised an exceptional society that spanned eastern North America, distinguished by the construction of large earthen mounds. One of their most important cultural and ceremonial centers was Spiro, located in present-day Oklahoma. The Spiro mounds are one of the United States’ most important ancient Native American sites, as well as an archaeological find unmatched in modern times. Yet, despite creating a sophisticated ancient culture, the Spiro people are nearly forgotten in the pages of history books. Opening March 13, 2022, at the Dallas Museum of Art, Spirit Lodge: Mississippian Art from Spiro presents nearly 200 ancient and contemporary works created by the Mississippian peoples and their descendants. Organized by the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum, this groundbreaking exhibition marks the first and possibly last time these works of art and cultural significance will be reunited from various collections across the country. The exhibition was previously presented in Oklahoma and Alabama to national acclaim; the DMA is the third and final venue and the exhibition can be seen for free in the Museum’s Hoffman Galleries.
“We are thrilled to bring this revelatory exhibition to Dallas and illuminate for our visitors the extraordinary art and culture of this nearly forgotten ancient society,” said Dr. Agustín Arteaga, the DMA’s Eugene McDermott Director. “Exhibitions like Spirit Lodge not only honor the history of this country’s Native peoples but also recognize and celebrate their living descendants—resilient artists who carry on a cultural legacy.”
Spirit Lodge was organized in close consultation with the Caddo Nation and Wichita and Affiliated Tribes, the descendants of the Spiroan people, and with contributions by 17 humanities scholars from nearly a dozen universities and museums across the United States. Dr. Michelle Rich, The Ellen and Harry S. Parker III Assistant Curator of the Arts of the Americas at the DMA, has been a longtime advocate for the exhibition, the associated scholarly research, and the contemporary artists whose work is featured.
The Spiroan people, along with other Mississippian groups across the eastern half of North America, created a world equal to that of the Aztec, Maya, or Inca, consisting of trade networks and highly developed social, political, and religious centers. The exhibition explores the archaeology and history of Spiro and its relationship to other contemporaneous Indigenous communities in North and Central America, highlighting community development, religious and ceremonial activities, farming and hunting practices, and daily life. In about 1400 CE, during a climate change crisis, thousands of ritual objects from across the Mississippian world were amassed as offerings within a hollow chamber at Spiro called the Spirit Lodge. Bearing images of people, deities, culture heroes, animals, and symbolic creatures, these objects demonstrate the complexity and expanse of Mississippian society.
The exhibition includes approximately 200 objects. Looting in the early 1930s caused irreparable harm to Spiro, but subsequent archaeological investigations were conducted to excavate the remains of the Craig Mound, which housed the Spirit Lodge. In 1935 the public’s imagination was piqued when the Kansas City Star called the site’s discovery a “King Tut’s Tomb in the Arkansas Valley,” and identified it as the greatest source of Mississippian iconographic material ever found. Embossed copper plates, wooden sculptures, thousands of pearls and beads, large human effigy pipes, and engraved shell gorgets and cups were among the items found at Spiro. This exhibition reunites a range of items looted and archaeologically excavated at Spiro that have not been together since the early 1930s.
Spirit Lodge concludes with works by contemporary artists who are reviving and reimagining their ancestors’ artistic practices. The art found at Spiro was produced by the ancestors of Caddo, Wichita, Pawnee, Osage, Lakota, Chickasaw, Cherokee, Muscogee, Choctaw, Potawatomi, Quapaw, Cheyenne, Seminole, and countless other Indigenous peoples. The exhibition provides an opportunity to learn more about the legacy of Native peoples and connect that legacy to living Indigenous communities.
“Spirit Lodge celebrates the beauty of Indigenous Mississippian arts and cultures,” said Dr. Rich. “It highlights the complex history of North America and North Texas by exploring the experiences of ancestral inhabitants as they struggled to survive during a time of adverse climate change. The exhibition ends on a high note, showcasing the vibrant artistic practices of descendant peoples vital to the rich diversity of the United States.”
Spirit Lodge: Mississippian Art from Spiro is organized by the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum. This exhibition is supported in part by the Henry Luce Foundation, the Kirkpatrick Foundation, and the National Endowment for the Humanities. The Dallas Museum of Art is supported in part by the generosity of DMA Members and donors, the National Endowment for the Arts, the Texas Commission on the Arts, and the citizens of Dallas through the City of Dallas Office of Arts and Culture.
Images: Raptor with human head effigy pipe, Plaquemine, Issaquena County, Mississippi, Esperanza Place, AD 1200–1400. Stone. Gilcrease Museum, Tulsa, Oklahoma, GM 61.1206; Effigy pipe of seated male figure, known as Resting Warrior or Big Boy, and identified as Morning Star or the hero Red Horn, Leflore County, Oklahoma, Spiro site, AD 1100–1200. Bauxite (flint clay). Fayetteville, University of Arkansas Museum, 47-2-1. Image courtesy The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Media Services. Photo: John Lamberton; Chase Kahwinhut Earles, Caddo, Horse Tripod Vessel (Deé-Tumbah Kah’-Wis), 2015. Ceramic. National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum, 2018.12; Starr Hardridge, Muscogee (Creek), COSMIC TWINS, 2016. Acrylic and plaster on canvas. National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum, 2019.17.
About the Dallas Museum of Art
Established in 1903, the Dallas Museum of Art (DMA) is among the 10 largest art museums in the country. With a free general admission policy and community outreach efforts, the DMA is distinguished by its commitment to research, innovation, and public engagement. At the heart of the Museum and its programs is its global collection, which encompasses 25,000 works and spans 5,000 years of history, representing a full range of world cultures. Located in the nation’s largest arts district, the Museum acts as a catalyst for community creativity, engaging people of all ages and backgrounds with a diverse spectrum of programming, from exhibitions and lectures to concerts, literary events, and dramatic and dance presentations. The DMA is an Open Access institution, allowing all works believed to be in the public domain to be freely available for downloading, sharing, repurposing, and remixing without restriction. For more information, visit DMA.org.
The Dallas Museum of Art is supported in part by the generosity of DMA Members and donors, the National Endowment for the Arts, the Texas Commission on the Arts, and the citizens of Dallas through the City of Dallas Office of Arts and Culture.
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