Double Take Online: Honoring Native Veterans through Art

Date
  • In celebration of Native American Heritage Month and Veterans Day, join three experts from across the Smithsonian as they discuss Marie Watt (Seneca)’s large wall tapestry, Edson’s Flag—a work that explores ideas of service, sacrifice, memory, and tradition. The Renwick Gallery’s Curator-in-Charge Nora Atkinson is joined by Alexandra Harris, senior editor at the National Museum of the American Indian, and Rebecca Trautmann, curator at the National Museum of the American Indian, for this engaging virtual discussion. Learn more about contemporary art by and about Native veterans as well as the history of Indigenous military service.

    This program is part of SAAM’s Double Take series. Widen your perspective on American art as Smithsonian specialists from different disciplines team up to talk about artworks from SAAM’s collection. This popular series features experts from an array of fields—from anthropology and geology, to aeronautics and history—and shows how art can connect to just about anything.

    - (Kelly Skeen) Good afternoon, and welcome to Double Take: "Edson’s Flag" Honoring Native Veterans. Please use the Q&A box to ask any questions. We will share key information with you throughout the program via the chat box. We also ask that you not close your browser window immediately after the program, as a survey will appear for you to provide valuable feedback. This program is being recorded and will be available on our website. It is also being live captioned, which you can access with the CC button at the bottom of your screen. My name is Kelly Skeen, and I am an interpretation specialist at the Smithsonian American Art Museum. This afternoon, we gratefully acknowledge the diverse and vibrant Native communities who make their home here, the Native peoples on whose ancestral homelands we are gathered, and the labor of people who were enslaved in constructing the historic building that houses the American Art Museum today. It is a pleasure to be with you and present this online version of our popular in-gallery program, Double Take. This series brings together curators from the American Art Museum into conversations with scholars across the Smithsonian to reveal the unexpected connections between American art and nearly every other subject we cover here at the Smithsonian--from history to anthropology, astronomy to zoology. Today, we'll explore the link between art, military service, and Native history and culture. To illuminate this link, I'm joined by three Smithsonian experts. Nora Atkinson is the Fleur and Charles Bresler Curator-in-Charge of the Renwick Gallery of the Smithsonian American Art Museum and was named Washingtonian Magazine's 2018 "Best Boundary-Pushing Curator" for her work on exhibitions such as "No Spectators: The Art of Burning Man" (2018) and "Murder Is Her Hobby: Frances Glessner Lee and The Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death" (2017). Atkinson joined the Renwick in 2014 and was part of the team responsible for the gallery's major, two-year renovation and reinvention. Before joining the Smithsonian, Atkinson was curator at the Bellevue Arts Museum. Nora is joined by her colleagues from the National Museum of the American Indian, Alexandra Harris and Rebecca Trautmann. Alexandra Harris is a senior editor and writer at the National Museum of the American Indian, where she has developed and edited scholarly books, exhibitions, strategic plans, and other communications since 2008. Her editorial projects have earned awards for excellence in research from the Secretary of the Smithsonian. Most recently, she co-authored and edited "Why We Serve: Native Americans in the United States Armed Forces" (2020). Prior to 2008, she was a curator at the Barona Cultural Center & Museum in San Diego. She holds an M.A. in American Indian Studies from the University of California at Los Angeles. Rebecca Head Trautmann is the project curator for the National Native American Veterans Memorial at the National Museum of the American Indian. Trautmann curated the exhibitions "Vantage Point: The Contemporary Native Art Collection" (2010-11) and "Making Marks: Prints from Crow’s Shadow Press" (2013-14) and co-curated "Stretching the Canvas: Eight Decades of Native Painting" (2019-22), currently on view at NMAI in New York. In 2012, she organized the first U.S. performance by Canadian artist Kent Monkman. Trautmann's graduate work at the University of New Mexico focused on modern and contemporary Native American art. Nora, Alexandra, and Rebecca, thank you so much for joining us today. We are so excited for this conversation. I'm going to have Nora take it from here and kick things off by telling us more about Marie Watt's "Edson's Flag."

    - (Nora Atkinson) Thanks, Kelly. As Kelly mentioned, my name is Nora Atkinson. I am the curator-in-charge at the Renwick gallery, and I am delighted today to open the discussion on a work from our collection that is currently one of the anchor pieces featured in our permanent collection galleries, "Edson's Flag" by artist Marie Watt. Watt is an American artist and citizen of the Seneca Nation with German-Scot ancestry. Her interdisciplinary work draws from history, biography, Iroquois protofeminism, and Indigenous teachings. In it, she explores the intersection of history, community, and storytelling. Watt holds an M.F.A. in painting and printmaking from Yale University. She also has degrees from Willamette University and the Institute of American Indian Arts. "Edson's Flag" is an early work from a series of two- and three-dimensional pieces Watt calls her "Blanket Stories," and it features a flag with a personal family history. Watt's great uncle Edson, whom she recalls had a big, toothy grin, was a World War II military veteran and a fixture in Watt's grandmother's home. When Edson passed away, he was buried with military honors and, afterwards, the flag that was draped on his casket was given to Watt's grandmother, who then passed it down to Watt's mother, and then on to her. It's always been important to Watt's family to use things, so she first thought to hang the flag, but as you can see, it's quite large. Although she was working on a series about blankets and a casket flag is in essence just that, she was at first hesitant to use it in her work since she was not a veteran herself. But she came to see the flag as an opportunity to honor not just her uncle but the stories of Native American veterans and other people of color who serve. Obviously, the flag is a very charged symbol, both of nationhood and, particularly in the case of a burial flag, of loss. So it has been a subject broached often in art. If this work reminds you of another artwork you've seen before, like Jasper Johns' "Flag" from 1954, that's intentional. Watt is trained as a painter and her work is steeped in art historical references, often drawing allusion to the 20th-century canon of artists like Johns, Mark Rothko, Morris Lewis, and Constantin Brâncuși. Yet her work also calls upon longer, deeper traditions from the making and gifting of quilts and blankets, to the totem poles made by Northwest Indigenous peoples. Watt actually hails from the Northwest. This, I think, is what sets her work apart. She's quick to point out that there is no word for art in most Native languages since art and utility and life seamlessly intersect and blend. That's very much akin to the way we often think of craft in our field. While it is no less art, it often carries an association with utility and its labor and history and traditions embed the work with meaning. Many contemporary artists working in fiber use the medium in a way to complicate their message. Works like Sonya Clark's "Monumental" in which she reimagines the dish towel waved as the Confederate flag of truce at Appomattox Courthouse in the scale of the Star-Spangled Banner to consider a world in which it and not the Confederate battle flag became a lasting symbol, or Kathryn Clark's "Foreclosure Quilts," which employ the association of the quilt with safety and warmth to draw attention to the plight of those who were displaced in the housing crisis. In "Edson's Flag," the hard edges of the canvas are replaced by overlapping layers--the softness of the satin, trim, and the loose, natural ripples of hanging. Quilting in blankets instantly call to mind a natural relationship to the body and the domestic, to home and warmth and family, and give the peace and intimacy and personal presence. In this, Watt's work resonates with other pieces in the Renwick's collection, like David Chatt's "Love, Dad" seen here, in which the artist collected 30 years of letters from his father and locked them away in memorial in a beaded cage. Together, these works offer a meditation on our relationship with such personal heirloom objects and the responsibility of carrying them. In the intimate correspondence of Chatt with his father, locked away from view, and the casket flag, the artists reveal tantalizing glimpses of these objects but never give us a full picture, tapping into universal memories and experiences. They are a way to honor these stories while also letting them go. Much like Chatt's letters, in creating the work, Watt was careful not to cut the flag but instead to add to it. Watt's work also currently hangs in a gallery opposite a wall of cups by artist Ehren Tool--handmade domestic objects the veteran gives away to encourage us to remember and talk about the realities of war. In these, Tool leaves his handprints intact, and each cup feels like a very personal encounter with the artist. We're sometimes tempted to seek perfection in art and life. Watt's works, like "Edson's Flag," are aesthetically pleasing and well balanced. Her skill as a painter and colorist are evident, and the metaphor of the flag layered with cultural traditions offers rich ground to consider. But to me, it's also the idiosyncrasies she revels in, the sweetness of the satin, the undulation and marks of wear, belying a secret history of use in a life lived, that make this work powerful. I see the mark on the army blanket and it reminds me that this was a moment in someone's life recorded in cloth like so many other moments, and it's a marker of our shared time and humanity. With that, I'd like to hand it over to my colleague, Alexandra Harris, to give a little bit of historical context.

    - (Alexandra Harris) Thanks so much, Nora. I'm going to briefly orient you to the history of Native American participation in the U.S. military. Native people allied with the colonists and participated in the U.S. military since the Revolutionary War, so some of the initial allies of the colonists were Native tribes and Native individuals. When we compiled the book "Why We Serve," we had a few goals to make our history slightly different, and one of those was to emphasize the diversity of tribes (of which there are hundreds), and all of them approached their service in different ways based on their belief systems and individual motivations, but also diversity of experiences and personal reasons to join the military. Some Native people have served for the same reasons everyone else has throughout history, but there are also added layers that Native people have communicated to us in the present and in their words throughout history. That's based on upholding sovereignty--often, tribes aligned to try to uphold their own nationhood or sovereignty--and also to protect their homelands and way of life. Prior to European contact, there were very diverse practices relating to warfare, and that differed, again, based on the tribal nation and their belief systems and their life ways. They had different definitions of a warrior than we do today. An expanded definition based on their languages might be more of a protector, someone who goes to war who has an obligation when they return to continue to serve the community. It's hard to make blanket statements about Native peoples because their approaches are so diverse and their traditions are very diverse, but there are some commonalities that we've found in traditions. A lot of that is a recognition that warfare and participating in war is a state of imbalance. So a lot of the customs and ceremonies surrounding preparing a warrior for his journey or her journey involve protection while they're on that journey and then reintegration into the community and the cleansing and healing along with that. We see throughout history an adaptation of these traditions over time. Not all Native tribes had a warrior tradition. Some were very pacifist, and some would defend territory but didn't have social structures surrounding warfare. Again, that diversity is something that we continue to emphasize. I would argue that probably the most unique contribution made by Native people in the U.S. military is the use of their languages in communication during World Wars I and II. You may have heard of the Navajo code talkers, but more than two dozen tribal languages were used in communications, sometimes in a formal structure where they would create a code within the language and sometimes in just happenstance between two people who spoke the same language. Either way, the enemy was never able to crack that language code. Just to represent the diversity of these languages, we have some men from the Meskwaki tribe of Iowa, Hopi of Arizona, and Comanche--Oklahoma. These all were code talker veterans of World War II. A few significant Native figures who participated in World War II: on the left we have Ira Hayes, who was made famous by the photograph by Joe Rosenthal of the flag raising on Iwo Jima. The center is Major General Clarence Tinker. He was the first general to die in World War II in the Battle of Midway. We have Grace Thorpe, who served in Japan during World War II and who recently donated her archives to the National Museum of the American Indian. On the right is Ernest Childers, who earned a Medal of Honor in Italy. Just as many people served on the home front as did in the military service during World War II. So this resulted in a massive social change for Native people. Many of these Native people who worked in war industries, by participating in this new wage work, it necessitated moving off the reservation, which wasn't as common prior to World War II. Another commonality between those who served in the military and those who served on the home front is that they started to gather a pan-Indian or cross-tribal identity, comparing notes with other Native people that they met. That resulted, post-war, in a lot of call for social change. Organizations formed, such as the National Congress of American Indians, and other organizations for civil rights. Since we're talking about the the intersection between art and history, I wanted to present a few veterans who shared their art during and after the war. This is Gus Palmer on the left and photographer Horace Poolaw, who trained aerial photography during World War II, in Tampa, Florida, and went on to document his community in Anadarko, Oklahoma, for decades--documenting veterans of three wars. Here you see code talker Carl Gorman. Post-war, he became a noted artist. On the left we have Oscar Howe, a World War II veteran who served in European theater, and we have an upcoming exhibition and publication on his body of work that will be showing at our New York museum in March. Not all artwork has been produced by World War II Native veterans, and one veteran I wanted to highlight as a final feature is Rick Bartow. He was a Vietnam veteran, and several Vietnam veterans especially used their artwork for healing and communicating that journey of healing. So here we have his piece "PTSD I, II, III." With that quick journey, I will hand you over to my colleague, Rebecca Trautmann, to talk more about Marie Watt's work. Thank you very much.

    - (Rebecca Trautmann) Thank you, Alexandra. Marie Watt created "Edson's Flag" for a 2004 exhibition at the National Museum of the American Indian in New York, which also included this piece now in the museum's collection. Works incorporating blankets like these large wall pieces, as well as blanket stacks, prints, and photographs were the focus of that exhibition and continue to be central to Watt's work. Watt is a member, as Nora noted, of the Seneca Nation, one of the six tribes that make up the Haudenosaunee, or Iroquois, Confederacy. This piece "In the Garden (Corn, Beans, Squash)" is named for the Haudenosaunee story of the food crops known as the Three Sisters. The crops are planted together and provide strength and support to one another as they grow, as well as complementing one another nutritionally. In this piece, the intertwined strands climbing toward the sky also suggest the Haudenosaunee creation story of the fall to Earth of Sky Woman, and the interlocking diamond forms recall the designs of Native American star quilts. Blankets appeal to Watt as familiar objects that are present throughout our lives and associated with warmth, comfort, and protection. She appreciates the way that they carry people's memories and stories, particularly in their worn areas, tears, and stains, and the personalities that blankets develop over time as they become worn with use, faded in color, and stretched out of shape. Blankets play significant roles in many Native American cultures as gifts given to mark important events and rites of passage. Historically, blankets were key objects of trade between Native and non-Native people, and so they carry a darker memory also of their role in spreading deadly smallpox among Native communities. Watt prefers to work with used or reclaimed blankets that she finds in thrift stores or that are donated by the public, along with the stories of what the blankets have meant in people's lives. She uses wool rather than synthetic blankets and describes them as the pelts of our animal relatives, the sheep. These large wall works are often made in community sewing circles with friends or open to the public, and the stitches are like signatures of the people who've contributed. The tactile qualities of the wool and the satin blanket bindings are intimately linked to the blanket's capacity for stirring memories in viewers and for conveying stories. Looking at "In the Garden" and "Edson's Flag" side by side, we can see a number of parallels and relationships between them. Both reference star quilts, and I love the echo between the stitched star forms in "Edson's Flag" and the stars of the American flag that peek out from behind the blankets. Both pieces have a design and a vertical axis linked to the story of Sky Woman's fall from the heavens to the Earth, which is reinforced by the star imagery. The two pieces have a similar color palette, and they may even incorporate parts of some of the same blankets, given that they were made about the same time. In both works, we see the shimmer of satin bindings and the blanket's stretched areas, tears, and stains. As Nora mentioned, Watt has also created towering stacks of folded blankets with an inherent tension between their almost architectural forms and the soft, pliable materials of which they're made. In addition to the references Nora mentioned, the blanket stacks also suggest skyscrapers and memorial columns, the tall conifer trees of the Pacific Northwest where Watt grew up and continues to live today, and the modernist totems of the Anishinaabe artist George Morrison. They resemble piles of blankets to be given away at a potlatch, or linens in an overstuffed closet, and they recall, again, the story of Sky Woman's fall to Earth. Some of the blanket stacks incorporate steel I-beams in tribute to the Mohawk ironworkers who've contributed to building countless bridges and skyscrapers, particularly in New York City. In 2008, wishing to personalize and humanize the stories of service members who lost their lives in Iraq and Afghanistan, Watt created a piece called "Forget-me-not: Mothers and Sons." A circular, steel framework supports a web made from blankets, from which hang about 250 hand-stitched memorial portraits. These depict the mostly young service members and drawing on the broad Haudenosaunee concept of motherhood. Admired women including mothers, grandmothers, aunties, and historical figures like Clara Barton, Nina Simone, and Julia Child. Each portrait is framed with colored satin binding, and an accompanying publication and website tell the stories of those pictured. While the space created by the piece has been compared to a chapel and to work such as Richard Serra's "Torqued Ellipse," Watt sees it as more akin to the storytelling circles that she experienced growing up in the Seattle urban Indian community. "Forget-me-not" creates a welcoming, inclusive space, a kind of sanctuary, for contemplation and remembrance and for the sharing of stories and memories. I'll close with this photo of the National Native American Veterans Memorial, designed by Southern Cheyenne artist and Marine Corps Vietnam Veteran Harvey Pratt, which opened on the grounds of the National Museum of the American Indian last November. It was important that the memorial's design be inclusive of and meaningful to all Native American veterans--American Indian, Alaskan Native, and Native Hawaiian--from all eras and branches of service. I think it's interesting that Pratt also chose the welcoming and inclusive form of a circle for his design, a form that's significant in different ways in many Indigenous American cultural traditions and that, here again, creates a space that invites gathering and remembrance. Now, I'd like to welcome Nora and Alexandra back so that we can have a discussion.

    - (Alexandra Harris) I can start with a question.

    - (Rebecca Trautmann) Ok.

    - (Alexandra Harris) It can be for both of you, but it might be for Rebecca. When I looked at "Edson's Flag" when you both were talking about it, I also thought about landscape, especially when you were comparing it to her other work, Rebecca. I was wondering if there's any symbolism about landscape or home within that and whether there's any connection with her blankets and Haudenosaunee treaties? It's a stretch, but as I understand in some of the treaty agreements, the United States does still deliver bolts of cloth to the Haudenosaunee people. So if you can, talk a little bit about that.

    - (Rebecca Trautmann) Sure, I can start. So I think it's interesting that in a number of Marie Watt's early blanket works--these wall works--and also in the columns, there's really a strong vertical axis as opposed to the horizontal axis that we typically see in American and Western landscape imagery. I don't know if there's so much a reference to a broader landscape but definitely to this kind of vertical axis of Haudenosaunee cosmology and the focus on the story of Sky Woman's fall to Earth from the heavens. She talked about with the columns, too, with the blanket stacks, that they also reference the story. The piece that both Nora and I showed include Sky Woman in the title, and so it also references the story and the idea of a ladder for Sky Woman to use in going between the Earth and the sky.

    - (Nora Atkinson) Something that I found interesting about the piece, and I talked with Marie a little bit about her color choices with the pink blankets, which really just came out of necessity and what was available in many ways, but I still can't help but look at the piece and think of it as being a sort of feminizing of the American flag and the way that it's coming together and sort of obscuring but also revealing it. Alex, when you were talking a little bit about the effects of the war back home, that also rang true to that same idea, that this was really not about just men going away to war but an entire community facing that. So I wondered if either of you could talk a little bit about--maybe Alex--the effects on people at home when these service members were going away and on that idea of a more holistic community there.

    - (Alexandra Harris) I don't know for the Haudenosaunee folks specifically, but what it did make me think of was how the Haudenosaunee people--of which Seneca is one of the Haudenosaunee tribes-- didn't immediately join the war effort. They decided to join under their own declaration of war against the Axis. So they declared war against Hitler. They weren't going to just agree to go to war with the United States against Hitler, so there was an affirmation of sovereignty. When I think about World War II and the Haudenosaunee people, that's the story that I think about and their assertion of sovereignty even if they had this population that wanted to participate or to whatever level. Absolutely. I don't know a great deal of how they in particular participated in the war effort up in the Northeast.

    - (Nora Atkinson) Again, I think in responding to something like Jasper Johns, which is part of that male 20th-century canon, the fact that Marie Watt is sort of taking that and turning it on its head with a medium that's so traditionally feminine and whatnot is something that really appeals to me with this work.

    - (Rebecca Trautmann) Yeah, I think so, and I think also the way that Marie is brought into her work community and organizing these sewing circles to create a lot of these works, particularly for that first exhibition at the National Museum of the American Indian in New York. It was partly out of necessity to try to complete these really labor-intensive works in time for the exhibition, but it created such a great sense of community as people sat together and talked while they were stitching. She's talked about how people's different stitches within a work really represent a fingerprint or a signature of the people who participated, and it's become an important part of her work ever since then. I think bringing that aspect of both a feminist approach and also an Indigenous approach to creating artwork to her work.

    - (Alexandra Harris) I have a question about artwork relating to veterans specifically. Also, given the establishment of the National Native American Veterans Memorial, did you see an uptick in collecting objects related to veterans specifically or a refocus on veteran artists?

    - (Rebecca Trautmann) Yeah, I would say some of both. I guess I'll start by saying that in creating the Veterans Memorial, we spent about a year and a half traveling across the country holding consultations with tribal communities, veterans in the community, and family members to get a better sense of what they wanted to see in the memorial. Everywhere we went we saw the ways that Native veterans were honored within their communities, whether through tribal veterans memorials, or exhibitions within tribal museums, or maybe a wall of photographs of veterans in the community hall. So that was really striking, just the way that veterans are so respected and honored within tribal communities. During the process of creating the memorial and since then, we have started to focus on trying to collect some works that honor Native veterans. We've been approached by some artists with works that they wanted to share with the museum, and then we've also done some more focused looking for these kinds of works ourselves. We recently acquired a set of really beautiful prints by an artist named Dyani White Hawk titled "Takes Care of Them." These are four screen prints, and they're inspired by women's dentalium shell dresses. She really layered different textures to create the effect of wool--similar to Watt's blanket works the way that the texture of the wool fabric is so important. But these prints are meant to evoke the ways that both women and veterans really take care of people within their communities, as the title says: "Takes Care of Them." They nurture, lead, protect, and create, and so these parallels. Alex, you talked about this, too, the way that service members and veterans within their communities and in this warrior tradition in many communities--it wasn't just and isn't just about fighting. It's also about really serving and caring for your community and protecting your homeland, protecting your community, and your way of life.

    - (Alexandra Harris) If I recall, I think that was an express purpose of the memorial as well--to recognize the people at home who were supporting and continue to support their returning veteran, not just the veterans who serve themselves.

    - (Rebecca Trautmann) Absolutely. As we were traveling and listening to what people wanted to see in the memorial, those are some of the things that we heard. It was very important that the memorial be inclusive of all Native veterans but also that it honor the service and sacrifice of the family members, the support given by the families of those who served. Yeah, so those were all very important.

    - (Nora Atkinson) I think that's one of the things that I really love about this piece is that it is a personal story, and so there is that connection that I think resonates more than some other works and yet it's also very universal. She has not really focused it in on Edson but donated it more to the entire community.

    - (Rebecca Trautmann) Yeah, and I think Marie talked about that, too, that it's meant to honor her great uncle but also to honor veterans more broadly. We see that in the other piece that I showed, "Forget-me-not." It's meant to honor veterans more broadly, but there's a focus on individual stories and individual portraits, too, so really bringing those two threads together. I think that's interesting in the--I'm not recalling the name of the artist--but the artist whose works you showed, Nora. The ceramic cups that seem to be both individual and meant to be more universal as well.

    - (Nora Atkinson) Yeah, Ehren Tool's work. He's a veteran who gives those away to anyone who asks, and he's given away more than ten thousand cups to people. It is meant to either honor their personal story--if you ask him for one, he will make one for you--but more generally just to bring the war home to people because his father and grandfather have served and didn't really talk much about the experience. It's sometimes very hard to talk about your war experiences, and so these kinds of domestic objects and art objects open up those conversations that sometimes otherwise we might not have. That's part of the beauty of them.

    - (Rebecca Trautmann) Right. I think "Forget-me-not," too, is meant to be a place where people can come together and share stories--the fact that she collected in a small publication and on a website the stories of all of those who were represented. So it's a way of sharing what are often painful stories. Are there other works in the American Art Museum's collection that address veterans and service in a similar or different way?

    - (Nora Atkinson) Yeah, we've worked with folks like the Combat Paper Project, which is a favorite of mine. But I think military service has a lot to do with the history of craft in many ways. There were a lot of folks that came back and on the G.I. Bill went into craft and were part of that founding of the American studio craft movement in those ways. So I think it's a theme that comes back again and again. We also have a work that we are presently working on with artist Bisa Butler, who is creating a piece on the Harlem Hellfighters, which is going to be one of the largest works she's created to date: nine figures. The Harlem Hellfighters, for those who don't know, were an infantry regiment in World War II who saw some of the most combat of any African-American regiment. They only just recently were honored with the Congressional Gold Medal by Joe Biden this last year, so another work that that celebrates veterans of color who sometimes don't get their due and their time.

    - (Rebecca Trautmann) That's exciting. I really look forward to seeing that piece. Alex, I wanted to ask you. As you mentioned, the the story of the code talkers is one of the best-known stories of Native military service, particularly in World War II but more broadly. Are there other stories that surprised you or that people might not know about that you found about service during World War II?

    - (Alexandra Harris) You know, I think the micro of World War II is expressive of the larger service in history, and, for me, the lesson that the stories of these veterans taught me was one of sacrifice. I know that this is a common element of military service, but I think the social change, especially around World War II, is an extra aspect of that sacrifice. It's really tens of thousands of people who were on reservations, on homelands, and then moved out into cities to get wage work. Often, they had already been in the boarding school system, so cities and towns may not have been terribly foreign to them, but it was an absolutely new way of life. Capitalism rather than sustainable agriculture or hunting--and it happened very, very quickly. This changed how ceremonies were done at home. If people were participating in wage work, they couldn't spend four days, for example, doing a ceremony to prepare a warrior or something like that, just as a general example. So it did change their social structure in significant ways.

    - (Nora Atkinson) Maybe we should turn over to audience questions.

    - (Kelly Skeen) Great. Well, thank you, Nora, Alexandra, and Rebecca for an incredibly stimulating conversation so far. We have lots of questions coming in from our audience, many of which dovetail with topics you've been discussing. First, I have a question about Watt's work. The participant asks, "How does Watt's work illustrate tensions between private memorialization and public memorialization using art?" Of course, any of you are welcome to answer that but perhaps Nora or Rebecca.

    - (Nora Atkinson) Go ahead.

    - (Rebecca Trautmann) Oh, okay. I was just going to say--we kind of touched on that a little bit--the idea of both honoring an individual veteran but also doing something that's meant to honor the broader contributions of veterans. I think, again, there are interesting parallels, too, with the piece "Forget-me-not" where Watt created the space for people to enter into and to gather and to share stories and remember. Completely independently, then, Harvey Pratt created a similar space in some ways: a circular, inclusive, welcoming space for people to come into and remember those who have served. Nora, maybe you want to speak to some of the tensions in Ehren Tool's work.

    - (Nora Atkinson) Yeah, I think there is a sweet spot there where you are telling a little bit of a private story, but you're only giving people so much of the story that it universalizes it. I think that's the image that I had showed of the work of David Chatt of his father's ladder that you can kind of glimpse words of that. You feel a pull towards wanting to know more, but you don't get that. You fill in those blank spots with your own story, and so that becomes part of your story. That's where I think Watt's work also succeeds in giving you just enough of a hint that this is a personal story and where this flag has been and then allowing you to build on an army blanket that wasn't Edson's blanket but a more universal symbol of that. You think about the hardship of being out there and that this was your one piece of comfort that was there and that you inevitably had those intimate moments with, and so I think that's where it's really successful.

    - (Rebecca Trautmann) Nora, I think that is something that Watt does so well with her work more broadly, too, is using these blankets that have these tears and stains that capture the role they played in one person's life but then really evoke stories and memories in the people that are seeing them, too. Go ahead.

    - (Nora Atkinson) I was just going to say she had related at one point a story to me that a graphic designer saw the image and called her up and said, "Can I just eliminate this? Because I'm doing this catalog." She's like, "No, that's part of the piece. Don't get rid of it." It's an essential part of the piece. You have this compulsion to edit, but those are really the important parts to it.

    - (Rebecca Trautmann) I love that she only wants to use these used blankets because that's the things that make them imperfect. Just like people's wrinkles--they tell the story of your life.

    - (Kelly Skeen) I wanted to circle back, Rebecca, to your discussion of Marie's practice working with others and in creating some of her artworks. One of our audience members asks, "For artists like Marie Watt that create in a communal setting, how have artists had to alter their practice during the past two years amidst a global pandemic?"

    - (Rebecca Trautmann) I would love to hear Nora speak to this, too. I know of just some examples--for example, a recent project that Marie Watt and another artist, Cannupa Hanska Luger, did together. It had initially intended to be a collaborative project, bringing people together in person to contribute to the work. They had to find different ways of doing it, but they came up with some incredible work together by having people do things on their own and then sending them in to be a part of this work. But, yes, it has certainly been such a challenge for all of us in so many different ways. For socially engaged artists, I think it's posed both some challenges and some opportunities. For that piece, for example, people who might not have been able to come in person to a gathering were able to contribute from a distance.

    - (Nora Atkinson) Yeah, I'm not thinking of a specific example right now, but a lot of artists who have also just taken the time to reflect on their practice and do much smaller work and try things that are a little bit more intimate scale and contributing to the effort. I know a lot of fiber artists who turned to making masks during the pandemic and whatnot, so it was still a kind of communal effort to create something but each in their own individual environments in their own way.

    - (Kelly Skeen) Thanks. Alexandra, we have a couple of audience members who are interested in learning more about how the code talkers emerged and the extent to which the tribal languages were used as codes during the war.

    - (Alexandra Harris) Sure. It's a very long story and there's some really excellent books that I would recommend, including ours. It started in World War I where three languages were sort of the first--I think Eastern Cherokee, Choctaw, and one other. I'm digging in my memory banks. But the Choctaw started to be the most organized at the very end of World War I when people started realizing, "Wait a minute." This is a conversation that started just as a casual happenstance conversation between two Choctaw people. That became a successful way of communicating across enemy lines and so that the Germans wouldn't intercept their communications and understand what they were talking about. That really did benefit in the last weeks of World War I. There was an attempt to formalize that and create a code within the language that would be even more difficult to break, but just as that program started, World War I ended. But it was not forgotten, so when World War II came around, the Marine Corps and the Army started to recruit tribes and tribal language speakers for a formal language program. Marine Corps was the one that developed the Navajo code talking program, which was the largest program--ultimately 420 Navajo language speakers. But there were, again, several languages that were brought in as formal codes-within-a-codes: Meskwaki, Hopi--just with eight speakers a little bit farther into the war. The process of developing these codes started prior to the U.S. joining the war. It was really well developed out. It was very successful, but then at some point our military started becoming doubtful and suspicious because the enemy can't understand them and neither can we. So what are they really saying? It could have been expanded even more, but there was still that suspicion, and I think that's been a suspicion of Native American people throughout history. Why are they supporting our country's military? Because we've been pretty terrible to them. But there's a fierce patriotism and commitment by Native people in general throughout history to support the U.S. military.

    - (Rebecca Trautmann) Alex--a couple of points based on what you were saying. One is that I think a lot of people aren't aware that many of these men who were asked to use their languages to transmit messages had been as children punished for speaking those languages in boarding schools. Then they were asked to use their languages to contribute in a way that they were uniquely able to do, and they stepped up and did so. I lost my other train of thought.

    - (Alexandra Harris) No, absolutely! Come back to it because I think that's one of the most important ironies of code talking and the success of the code talking program is that a lot of these kids were brought up in federal and religious boarding schools that would literally beat them for speaking their language. So the fact that the languages endured and endured to the extent that they could actually serve their country using these languages is a massive irony and something worth discussion and remembering. To me, it's a resilience that you see throughout history--as dark as talking about warfare and researching the history of warfare can be--the amount of resilience that emerges, especially from Native tribes defending their own sovereignty and homelands, and just this aspect of carrying through traditions throughout wars and even having to adapt them but that they survive and end up contributing to success.

    - (Rebecca Trautmann) I did remember my other thought, which was just that you touched on the irony that so many Native people choose to serve and the broader public wondering why would that be the case. Why would they want to serve? As we did these consultations across the country, we would often ask, "Well, why did you choose to serve?" As you alluded to, we heard a lot of different reasons. We heard, "I was drafted," or "I needed a job," or "It was a chance to see the world," but the thing that we kept hearing again and again in these consultations was a sense of responsibility to protect one's homeland and family and community and way of life and language--really, this inherited sense of responsibility to protect.

    - (Alexandra Harris) An obligation in a way that defines the role of a warrior. We can't really use the words that any given tribe would, but when I talk to language speakers they would say, "Oh yeah, this resonates with me because the word we use is this, and it means something slightly different than what American English defines as somebody who goes to war--a soldier or warrior." It involves obligation and that obligation to your family, to the people who are at home, and to the land, to the water. As I mentioned, that meant that these veterans returned from World War II and started organizing towards social and political causes. Again, we saw that in huge numbers also after Vietnam and the civil rights era. I know that was similar for African-American soldiers. So you had this movement--pan-Indian, so beyond tribal boundaries--to have obligation towards land, water, way of life.

    - (Kelly Skeen) Thanks so much for sharing more about the motivations behind service and the nuances of the strength and resilience behind it. As we near the end of our program, I thought I would bring it back to a question about the artwork that started at all: Marie Watt's "Edson's Flag." One of our audience members asked about how the work was made. The person asks, "Are the other textiles overlaying a flag such that they can be removed, leaving the American flag intact, or is the American flag cut up and sewn into the other fabrics?"

    - (Nora Atkinson) No, the the American flag has not been touched in this. It certainly could be undone, and the other fabrics that were involved in the creation--the various pinks--all came at the beginning of the project. When Marie was searching around for materials, she would go to Goodwill to pick up these blankets, and she would challenge herself to always spend under five dollars for any blanket. Pink was a popular color, and that just seems to play well into the composition in those ways. Then the Army blanket, of course, which, as I think I mentioned earlier, she really thought long and hard about whether that was something that she wanted to include. She got feedback very early on from veterans that they would love to see their own history reflected in some of her work. After hearing that, she really felt like she had the permission, if you will, to be able to incorporate that into the work so that she could talk about their stories and more universal stories. I think her work really has developed out from there, as well, to incorporate blankets from all over the world now. So it's slowly gotten larger and larger to talk about more universal humanity and our relationships with these objects that go basically from cradle to grave.

    - (Kelly Skeen) Thanks, Nora. Oh, Rebecca, were you going to share something?

    - (Rebecca Trautmann) I was just going to mention that I remember Marie also talking about her hesitation to use Army blankets and because of the weight of the stories and the memories that they carry. Around the time that she started to feel like it was okay for her to use them, she also thought more about her role as a custodian of these blankets and the stories that they carry and the responsibility that comes with that and actually did some works called "Custodian" as she was thinking this through.

    - (Kelly Skeen) Before we close, I want to invite the three of you to share any final remarks or fleeting thoughts that you want to leave with our audience.

    - (Rebecca Trautmann) I would just like to thank you for inviting Alexandra and I to be part of this conversation with Nora. It's such a wonderful opportunity. I love that piece of Marie Watt's at SAAM's collection and was so excited the first time I saw it hanging at the Renwick. I had seen it in this first exhibition at NMAI in New York and so it was wonderful to see it there, to know it's part of the Smithsonian now, and to have a chance to talk about it with you.

    - (Nora Atkinson) Rebecca and Alex, I feel the same way. I was really excited for this conversation to also hear more about the piece in your collection that has such an obvious resonance, and it's just been a really rich conversation, so thank you.

    - (Alexandra Harris) I'm really honored to be part of your talk, and thank you for letting me give some historical context to this artwork. It's one of the things that when we were developing our "Why We Serve" book I was really interested in gaining some other aspect of how to heal from war, how to understand military service. Rebecca actually wrote the chapter in our book about artist veterans, and I think it really augments the story of military experience, just this discussion of art and how art's used in many different ways and in many different expressions surrounding this military service.

    (Kelly Skeen) Well, thank you so much for joining us. Thank you to our speakers: Nora, Alexandra, and Rebecca. One of my favorite parts of working at the Smithsonian is the chance to make these really rich, interdisciplinary connections like we have today. Thank you also to the behind the scenes folks for all of their work to help the program run smoothly. Once again, please fill out the survey in your browser and let us know what you enjoyed about today's program. Finally, we invite you to join us on November 17th for our Clarice Smith Lecture with scholar Richard Powell. More information can be found on our website or via the link in the chat. Thanks so much. Have a great afternoon.