Becoming Mary Sully: Toward an American Indian Abstract

Becoming Mary Sully: Toward an American Indian Abstract

by Philip J. Deloria

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Overview

Dakota Sioux artist Mary Sully was the great-granddaughter of respected nineteenth-century portraitist Thomas Sully, who captured the personalities of America’s first generation of celebrities (including the figure of Andrew Jackson immortalized on the twenty-dollar bill). Born on the Standing Rock reservation in South Dakota in 1896, she was largely self-taught. Steeped in the visual traditions of beadwork, quilling, and hide painting, she also engaged with the experiments in time, space, symbolism, and representation characteristic of early twentieth-century modernist art. And like her great-grandfather Sully was fascinated by celebrity: over two decades, she produced hundreds of colorful and dynamic abstract triptychs, a series of “personality prints” of American public figures like Amelia Earhart, Babe Ruth, and Gertrude Stein.

Sully’s position on the margins of the art world meant that her work was exhibited only a handful of times during her life. In Becoming Mary Sully, Philip J. Deloria reclaims that work from obscurity, exploring her stunning portfolio through the lenses of modernism, industrial design, Dakota women’s aesthetics, mental health, ethnography and anthropology, primitivism, and the American Indian politics of the 1930s. Working in a complex territory oscillating between representation, symbolism, and abstraction, Sully evoked multiple and simultaneous perspectives of time and space. With an intimate yet sweeping style, Deloria recovers in Sully’s work a move toward an anti-colonial aesthetic that claimed a critical role for Indigenous women in American Indian futures—within and distinct from American modernity and modernism.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780295745046
Publisher: University of Washington Press
Publication date: 04/10/2019
Pages: 336
Sales rank: 197,750
Product dimensions: 7.30(w) x 8.90(h) x 0.90(d)
Age Range: 18 Years

About the Author

Philip J. Deloria (Dakota descent) is professor of history at Harvard University and the author of Indians in Unexpected Places and Playing Indian. His most recent book, coauthored with Alexander I. Olson, is American Studies: A User’s Guide. He is a trustee of the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of the American Indian, where he chairs the Repatriation Committee; a former president of the American Studies Association; and an elected member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

Table of Contents

Acknowledgments ix

Introduction: Native to Modernism 3

Part 1 Becoming Mary Sully

Chapter 1 Genealogies: Sound from Everywhere 27

Chapter 2 Histories: To Wake Up and Live 59

Part 2 Reading Mary Sully

Chapter 3 Interpretation: Toward an American Indian Abstract 93

Chapter 4 Contextualization: The Impossible Subject 145

Part 3 Realizing Mary Sully

Chapter 5 Psychology and Culture: The Nature of the Margin 191

Chapter 6 Politics and the Edges: Reading Three Stages of Indian History 227

Conclusion: Luta and the Double Woman 261

Notes 281

Index 314

What People are Saying About This

Ned Blackhawk

In an astonishing act of recovery, Becoming Mary Sully reorients the study of Native American aesthetics. Through prodigious research and creative analysis, Phil Deloria locates his great-aunt's life and work within the broader currents of American cultural history and in the process challenges the often unhelpful disciplinary boundaries that disconnect "American" and "American Indian" art. A wonderful addition.

Ruth Phillips

Makes available a unique and fascinating body of modern art that, as interpreted by the author, expands our understanding not only of Native American but also of American modernism during the first half of the twentieth century.

From the Publisher

"Makes available a unique and fascinating body of modern art that, as interpreted by the author, expands our understanding not only of Native American but also of American modernism during the first half of the twentieth century."—Ruth Phillips, professor of art history, Carleton University

K. Tsianina Lomawaima

Mary Sully’s art stops you in your tracks. So do the interpretations offered by her great-nephew Phil Deloria. Deloria argues that Sully was a ‘native to modernism,’ an extraordinary early twentieth-century talent whose personality prints disrupt the categories of American Indian and modernist art genres. Once again, Deloria sets the bar for brilliant Indigenous scholarship that elevates our understandings of our shared—Indigenous and non-Indigenous—world.

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