My son and I sat in front of The Rabbit Hunter by Oscar Berninghaus at the New Mexico Museum of Art. For an hour we reconstructed the painting, with a little (non) help here and there from the security guard who ambled in and wanted to add his two cents.
This was for an academic paper but the experience of interpreting an artist's message of culture and a mother/son afternoon together was an experience. In many ways. Because it really is all about narrative. Who is saying what about what. That is how you read culture. This is the white man, noted artist, reading and interpreting the culture of native americans. But is it reality? Of course not. Although the chamisa in bloom, in full yellow in front, is a very accurate depiction, and the landscape in the back is recognizable, Indians venturing out on hunting parties?
Berninghaus romanticized the life of the local Indians (he was living in Taos at the time, in northern New Mexico where the Taos Indians had been living longer than any anglo community in the United States) and while he painted this painting, the scientists under the direction of Robert Oppenheimer were developing the Atomic bomb at Los Alamos, just south down the Rio Grande River (known south of the border as the Rio Bravo). Joseph Traugott, curator of 20th century art at the museum, had reconstructed the main gallery, written a book about it, and this piece was one of our favorites.
So, who is hunting whom? The Indians hunting the white man/other indians/animals/ or the Los Alamos guys on a rampage to hunt down and kill, via remote bombery, the Japanese on the other side of the world. You get it, right? Cowboys and Indians. Out West.
Traugott's book, How The West Was One, is an accompaniment to the exhibit and is a great book, by the way -- I've read it cover -to-cover, and some of my friends and I enjoyed a private tour with Traugott of his exhibit.
I could have used my art scholarship to major in art, but, alas, I didn't. I majored in journalism which will become known in this century as the ancient art of reporting news. My area of specialization: public relations, which means the art of framing the narrative, simply put. Still, the afternoon was enjoyable for me -- just to spend to time w/ my son. But the romantic idea of the Indian... that is another story.