Arts Education Galleries

New Exhibition Spark of the Eagle Dancer Honors Legacy of Lambert Wilson

Beetle. John Julius Wilnoty, artist

By Amie Cooke

From Tuesday, August 8, through December 8, the Western Carolina University (WCU) Fine Art Museum at Bardo Arts Center presents Spark of the Eagle Dancer: The Collecting Legacy of Lambert Wilson, an exhibition celebrating the Native American art collection of beloved collector Lambert Wilson and the impacts he made on those around him. The exhibition will feature more than 140 works of contemporary Native American art from the more than 6,000-piece collection, including baskets, weavings, pottery, carving, jewelry, painting and photography. “The exhibit is a memorial tribute to Lambert’s dedication to Native art and artists throughout his life,” says Bob Proctor, a member of the exhibition team and an artist whose work will be on display.

Pottery with sgrafitto bee design. Alvina Yepa, artist

As a student at WCU, Wilson fell in love with Native American art while visiting John Julius Wilnoty’s Eagle Dancer sculpture for an extra credit assignment. Later, during his 30-year career as an educator and principal, Wilson had a large population of Native American students in his school and would invite Cherokee artists to demonstrate their work. Wilson began his collection by purchasing pieces from these artists.

Jenny Holland, Wilson’s partner, fellow Native art collector and another member of the exhibition team, grew up in her mother’s restaurant in the Qualla Boundary. She started collecting Cherokee art after seeing her mother collect pieces from their customers. “Like Lambert, my family saw the art as a way of preserving the culture of Native Americans and realized the art was how many of them provided for their families,” she says. After Wilson and Holland met in 2006, they visited Santa Fe and expanded their collection to include artists from the Southwest. “We loved the art, but we loved the artists as well and developed wonderful, long-lasting friendships with the artists and their families,” Holland says.

A Contemporary Native American Pot. Troy Jackson, artist

Proctor says that two of the most important aspects of the exhibition are that it displays Wilson’s commitment to Native American artists and it encourages other collectors to invest in artists’ well-being beyond just purchasing their work. “Lambert helped me in many ways to appreciate other art forms, artists and, in general, to value people for not only what they create but who they are as a person,” Proctor says.

According to Proctor, selecting pieces for the exhibition was difficult since Wilson and Holland’s collection is so vast. The exhibition team tried to get a general representation of tribes, artists and art forms, and focus on Wilson’s favorite pieces. “I hope visitors will take away an appreciation for the art and a desire to learn more about the culture and history of the artist,” says Holland. “I also hope that it will continue to inspire all future artists, not only Native American artists, to use their talents and creativity to beautify our world.”

A reception for Spark of the Eagle Dancer: The Collecting Legacy of Lambert Wilson will be held on Wednesday, August 30, from 5–7 p.m. at the WCU Fine Art Museum. To learn more, visit Amie Cooke, a summer intern with The Laurel, is a student at UNC-Chapel Hill.

Leave a Comment