To make up for missing one of the trips to Robeson County this semester, I visited the Guilford Native American Art Gallery in the Greensboro Cultural Center in downtown Greensboro on Tuesday. The gallery is relatively small, a single large room with rotating exhibits from various Native American tribes residing all over North Carolina. The current exhibition was from the 18th annual North Carolina American Indian Juried Art Exhibition, featuring paintings, drawings, crafts (tobacco pipes, ceremonial clothing, necklaces etc) and other works of art by North Carolina Indian tribes.
I was surprised to see how prevalent the Lumbee were in the gallery – of maybe 50 or so art pieces, at least half were by Lumbee Indians, and probably significantly more than half. I saw many of the common Lumbee surnames, including Oxendine, Lowery, Cummings, and Locklear. There was a variety of different kinds of art by the Lumbee, and I noticed a few different themes. Not surprisingly, people and places seemed to be the major focus of much of the artwork – as the two primary components of Lumbee identity, the artists seemed very concerned with communicating these. There were pieces which were simple drawings of old grandmothers or random, unnamed Lumbees. Many of the places were related to place, as well – there were a number of pieces (mostly photographs, but a few paintings as well) which were named after a specific place in Robeson County with importance and relevance to the Lumbee community, some as vague as Drowning Creek and others specifically referencing particular locations.
I also noticed that there seemed to be a major theme of the parallelism between traditional Indian culture of the Lumbee, such as ceremonial outfits and rituals and the like, and modern American life. Many of the pieces dealt specifically with one or the other, but I remember several pieces which commented on the crossover and interaction between the two. This provides further insight into the Lumbee identity – unlike most Native American tribes, they do not have an abundance of visibly “Indian” characteristics, although they do have ceremonies and ceremonial wear. They seem more at first sight just like country people with a strange cultural twist, rather than what most people would imagine modern Indians to be like. Nevertheless, they retain elements of traditional Indian culture, and the pieces in this exhibit illustrated the importance of that aspect of their identity.