A fine balance between painting and sculpture — parallel to that between art and a political career in his life — is found in a show of work by Enoch Kelly Haney. The “Touching the Past” exhibit of paintings, prints and sculpture by the Seminole and Creek artist is on view at the Gaylord-Pickens Oklahoma Heritage Museum.
Haney is the creator of “The Guardian” figure atop the dome of the Capitol, where he served as a state representative from 1980 to 1986, and as a state senator from 1986 to 2002.
A kneeling tribal elder, armed only with a feathered rattle, doesn't seem afraid of a serpent on a log as he teaches a boy about “Seminole Snake Medicine” in a deft acrylic painting on paper or mat board.
A ghostly newborn baby appears in the blue smoke of a log fire in front of a corn row, as three Indian men participate in a “New Life, Corn Ceremony,” in a well-handled tempera on mat board work.
Realistic, yet mythically evocative, are acrylics of an owl spirit being literally released from a dying man's body, and of a man with a snake tail, cradled in another's arms, called “Legend of the Snake Clan.”
A stark white background gives a more modern feel to Haney's hand tinted lithograph of a “Sac and Fox Warrior,” seen in profile, with feathers in his hair and a red hand print on his face.
Even more modern and austere is “Preparing for the Dance,” an acrylic in which beaded moccasins, beadwork and a single feather are displayed in front of blocks of color, divided into sky and earth tones.
Rich, deep hues add to the impact of a five-color lithograph, with colored pencil and acrylic paint, of a “Night Warrior,” protected by a shield with a buffalo image. Colorful, too, as well as more freely handled, and almost expressionistic, are his acrylics of a warrior on horseback, “Fighting Back,” and of a red, turquoise, green and purple “Buffalo at Dusk.”
A bald eagle in flight, in front of the sky and an American flag, becomes emblematic of “Democracy” and “Freedom” in two acrylics, and the same bird symbolizes a “search for leadership” in a third.
Magic realism is employed, masterfully, to make the figure seem transparent, in “Emptiness Has a Claim on Death,” an oil of the starry sky showing through the body of an Indian man sitting on the prairie.
Landscape elements figure more prominently in Haney's acrylic of “Kelli Brook,” picking wildflowers from a field that interact nicely with the intricate patterns of her blue and crimson dress.
A rich brown color scheme gives great presence to his small, closely cropped acrylic of “My Seminole Grandmothers Winey & Togy,” and to a larger acrylic of “The Flute Paper.”
Possessing their own powerful presence are the artist's bronze sculptures in the show, including a smaller version of the capitol's “Guardian,” and a bronze of a second warrior, “Standing His Ground.”
Even more intent, and almost fierce, is the expression of a shield-bearing “Chickasaw Warrior,” while streamlining gives a robed, windblown woman holding a baby a stoic quality in “No More Tears.”
Smaller figures, including a mother and child, suggest the chain of being, inside the hollowed out head of a “Universal Man,” in one of Haney's most forceful bronze sculptures.
Also making its point is “Unconquerable Spirit,” a relief bronze plaque of an Indian man driving a blade into a treaty or document — a work which finds an echo in an acrylic painting called “Mark of the Knife.”
The exhibit by Haney, who was sworn in as Principal Chief of the Seminole Nation of Oklahoma in 2005, is highly recommended during its run through July 28.
— John Brandenburg