“T.C. Cannon: At the Edge of America” at the Peabody Essex Museum

T.C. Cannon: At the Edge of America at the Peabody Essex Museum celebrates the life and work of one of the most influential Native American artists with 90 works including paintings, music, and poetry. Cannon’s work ties his heritage and personal experiences with the ongoing questions of ethnic identity, social justice, land rights, and cultural appropriation which continue to be relevant in today’s society.

Viewers can understand Cannon’s personal life as a Vietnam War veteran who created the majority of his work in the late 1960s-early 1970s through his inclusion of both Native and non-Native design elements. The exhibit features paintings that draw inspiration from artists like Van Gogh and Matisse, while still including traditional Native designs giving another layer to Cannon’s artistic identity.

Cannon’s written and musical works are displayed alongside his paintings to enhance our understanding of his art. The exhibition also features music by Samantha Crain, a Choctaw alt-folk musician who was commissioned by the Peabody Essex Museum to write and perform a song based on one of Cannon’s most influential pieces. While encountering Epochs in Plains History: Mother Earth, Father Sun, The Children Themselves (1976-77) viewers can take in Crain’s admiration of Cannon with audio tracks and a video display of her work.

T.C. Cannon (1946-1978, Caddo/Kiowa), Abbi of Bacabi, 1978. Oil on canvas. Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art, University of Oklahoma, Norman, Oklahoma. © 2017 Estate of T.C. Cannon.

Cannon provided a voice for Native people during a time when land removals and a turbulent political climate threatened their identities. With influences ranging from his experiences as a paratrooper during the Tet Offensive to his determination to change the way Native culture was viewed by non-Native people, Cannon ultimately succeeds in creating a foundation for other artists and marginalized groups during his time and through the present.

His contributions to the art community during his lifetime led to a feature exhibition at The Natural Collection of Fine Arts (now the Smithsonian American Art Museum). Following this exhibition’s success, the collection began a worldwide tour with stops in Berlin, Belgrade, Istanbul, Madrid, and London. In addition to the 50 paintings he completed, he sketched regularly and wrote music and poetry before his tragic death in a car accident in 1978.

T.C. Cannon (1946-1978, Caddo/Kiowa), Epochs in Plains History: Mother Earth, Father Sun, the Children Themselves, 1976-77. Oil on canvas, Seattle Office of Arts and Culture, Seatle, Washington. © 2017 Estate of T.C. Cannon. Photo by Gary Hawkey/iocolor.

Cannon’s artwork is becoming increasingly important for museums and galleries in today’s society as we are moving towards a more expansive and inclusive view of American art. Following its run at the Peabody Essex Museum, T.C. Cannon: At the Edge of America will begin the first national tour of Cannon’s work since 1990.

T.C. Cannon: At the Edge of America is on view March 3 through June 10, 2018.

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