Never Broken: Visualizing Lenape Histories

Experience contemporary art by Lenape artists in dialogue with historic Lenape ceramics, beadwork, and other cultural items

Nulelìntàmuhëna èli paèkw Lenapehoking. Kulawsihëmo enta ahpièkw. (Umami Language)

Nooleelundamuneen eeli payeekw. Lunaapeewahkiing. Wulaawsiikw neeli apiiyeekw. (Munsee Language)

We are glad because you people come to Lenapehoking. Live well while you are here. (English Language)

-Joe Baker, Lenape Center

The James A. Michener Art Museum is on Lenapehoking, the ancestral and spiritual homeland of the Lenape. Their unbroken relationship to this land has survived forced removal and diaspora. As a center for creative expression in the Delaware Valley, we recognize their work as caretakers and creators as integral to the region. We commit to learning from Lenape culture and providing a space for their current perspectives in our work. 

Never Broken Installation Shot - Impressions of Lenapehoking (2023) by Christian GiannelliJames A. Michener Art Museum

Never Broken: Visualizing Lenape Histories

This exhibition considers the power of art to construct and dismantle inaccurate Indigenous histories through a display of contemporary art by Lenape (also called Delaware) artists in dialogue with historic Lenape cultural items and reproductions of Benjamin West's Penn’s Treaty.

Penn's Treaty (ca. 1840) by Edward Hicks (1780–1849)James A. Michener Art Museum

The Power of a Painting

Pictured: Edward Hicks (1780–1849), Penn’s Treaty with the Indians, ca. 1840. Oil on canvas, 38 x 48 inches. James A. Michener Art Museum. Gift of Anthony Seraphin in honor of Robert and Joyce Byers

Penn’s Treaty with the Indians, originally painted by Benjamin West (1738–1820) depicts William Penn (1644-1718), the founder of the Province of Pennsylvania, exchanging goods for land with the Lenape, the region's historical inhabitants. Penn’s Treaty established a visual record for an event with limited documentation that occurred nearly a century earlier. It is therefore a perspective on history, not a factual account.

Never Broken Installation Shot - The Power of a Painting (2023) by Christian GiannelliJames A. Michener Art Museum

Reproduced and distributed across the globe as a popular engraving by John Hall (1739–1797), West’s composition went viral. It was copied by other artists like the Bucks County, Pennsylvania, painter Edward Hicks (1780–1849) whose work appears here.

While Penn’s Treaty and its many reproductions visualized the founding of the commonwealth as a peaceful transfer of land that was “never broken,” Penn’s sons and colonists forced the Lenape out of Pennsylvania through deception and violence in the 1700s.

Never Broken Installation Shot - Remembrance and Continuance (2023) by Christian GiannelliJames A. Michener Art Museum

Remembrance and Continuance

The artworks in this gallery celebrate the legacy and evolution of Lenape visual expression. 

Remembrance (2023) by Joe Baker (Delaware Tribe of Indians), Michael Asbill, and student carversOriginal Source: Lenape Center

The room is anchored by Remembrance, an installation that honors Xinkwikaoan (Big House), the principal religion of the Lenape. The central post, created by Joe Baker, Michael Asbill, and others, offers gratitude and environmental protection in the face of climate change today.

Never Broken, Marc D' Agostino, Brent Michael Davids, 2023, From the collection of: James A. Michener Art Museum
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This video shows the blessing, carving, and painting of the Remembrance Big House post. Tobacco and cedar were burned as a blessing to the spirit of the big tooth aspen. Artists Joe Baker and Michael Asbill used a hatchet to remove the wood chips when hand-carving the post’s face. Finally, the charcoal, made from the tree’s wood, was mixed with bear fat to make the black paint. The red paint is made from bloodroot, a kind of poppy that exudes a reddish sap.

Bloodline (2015) by Holly Wilson (Delaware Nation and Cherokee)Original Source: Holly Wilson

Holly Wilson’s monumental sculpture Bloodline tells a powerful and complicated story of loss, survival, and resilience through the artist’s family history.

The lone figure on the left is James Bobb Jr., the nephew of Chief James Bobb.

The figures on the right represent Wilson’s own children, both living and lost.

Bandolier Bag (1999) by Joe Baker (Delaware Tribe of Indians)Original Source: Joe Baker

Primarily worn in a cross-body fashion for special occasions, bandolier bags are made by Lenape artists from cotton or wool cloth and colorful, embroidered strands of tiny glass beads made in Venice and acquired from European traders.

Bandolier Bags (2014 and 2021) by Joe Baker (Delaware Tribe of Indians)Original Source: Joe Baker

After learning that white collectors had removed many historic bandolier bags from his Delaware Tribe community, Joe Baker taught himself how to make these bags, combining traditional Lenape forms, like abstract flowers and leaves, with more personal motifs.

Never Broken Installation Shot - Impressions of Lenapehoking, Ceramics (2023) by Christian GiannelliJames A. Michener Art Museum

Impressions of Lenapehoking

The significance of pattern in Lenape culture is evident in the incised ceramic vessels used over 1,000 years ago. 

Abstract motifs drawn from nature illuminate the Lenape's ancestral and spiritual connection to this land.

Never Broken Installation Shot - Impressions of Lenapehoking, Achipaptunhe (2023) by Christian GiannelliJames A. Michener Art Museum

In his painted responses to the historic Lenape pottery and basketry on display, the artist Ahchipaptunhe explored and replicated their natural, incised, and impressed textures on unstretched canvas. He named the paintings after the four elements—earth, fire, water, and air—in the Lenape language, articulating the interconnectedness of these objects with the natural world.

From left to right:
Tëntay – Fire
Lexeokàn – Breathing 
Niskëpèk – Dirty Water
Hàki – Earth, Dirt, Ground or Soil

Never Broken Installation Shot - "Alëmi pëmëske (He begins to walk)" (2023) by Christian GiannelliJames A. Michener Art Museum

Alëmi pëmëske (He begins to walk)

In June 2023, artists Nathan Young and Yatika Starr Fields walked a portion of the infamous Walking Purchase in reverse, visually unmaking the route that forcibly took 1.2 million acres of land from the Lenape in 1737.

Credits: Story

Never Broken is curated by Joe Baker, co-founder and Executive Director of the Lenape Center, and Laura Turner Igoe, Gerry and Marguerite Lenfest Chief Curator at the Michener Art Museum.

Never Broken: Visualizing Lenape Histories is one in a series of American art exhibitions created through a multi-year, multi-institutional partnership formed by the Philadelphia Museum of Art as part of the Art Bridges Cohort Program. This exhibition was supported by a generous grant from the Henry Luce Foundation. Additional support was provided by Eiseman Construction, Inc., the Michener Art Museum’s Corporate Business Partners, and the Dolfinger-McMahon Foundation. This exhibition is presented in collaboration with the Lenape Center.

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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