James H. Nottage, editor,
(Eiteljorg Museum, 2011)

In 2008, Helen Cox Kersting donated to Indianapolis's Eiteljorg Museum of American Indians and Western Art one of the finest collections of Native American art -- including pottery, jewelry, baskets, weavings, paintings and sculptures -- in existence. This book contains essays describing Kersting and her collection, as well as photographs of most of the items she donated.

The book itself is a work of art, a breathtaking object that looks and feels as substantial as a museum piece. The dust jacket illustration is Virgil Ortiz's Cochiti Figure, a ceramic piece that refuses to allow you to take your attention away. Remove the dust jacket and the book is covered with gorgeous, rust-colored cloth with gold-stamped lettering. The paper is heavy and shiny, showing off the photographs of the pieces beautifully. And it's sewn for durability; this is a book that will hold up against heavy use and will last as long as the art works that it illustrates. In all, the book looks like an artifact that could have been built by a Native American artist and for its looks and feel alone, it is a volume that will be treasured by its readers.

And what of the contents? Evidently, Kersting knew her stuff. She gathered together some of the most startlingly beautiful and important pieces in existence. The photographs of the jewelry show that it longs to be worn and the figures and dolls appear to be living and breathing; they are wonderful blends of the abstract and concrete, archetypal and specific at the same time.

To leaf through this book is to want to pack up, take the next flight to Indianapolis and see the display for real. Until you can make that trip, though, this book will provide a more than adequate substitute for the real thing. Even if you do see the real exhibit, you'll still want to own this book; it's a treasure.

book review by
Michael Scott Cain

29 October 2011

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