Tradition can Comfort: Maggie Thompson at the Renwick

Maggie Thompson, On Loving, 2022–2023
vinyl, beads, thread, zippers
photo by Todd Bockley

The 55 works in the Renwick Gallery’s Sharing Honors and Burdens: Renwick Invitational 2023 reflect long-established techniques and crafts. But, writes Mark Jenkins for the Washington Post, “the six Native American and Alaska Native participants in this show blend the time-tested with the innovative, sometimes venturing into territory that isn’t very traditional at all.” Along with Minneapolis-based artist Maggie Thompson (Fond du Lac Ojibwe), the gallery, the craft wing of the Smithsonian American Art Museum, hosts works by Joe Feddersen (Arrow Lakes/Okanagan), sisters Lily Hope and Ursala Hudson (Tlingit), Erica Lord (Athabaskan/Iñupiat), and Geo Neptune (Passamaquoddy).

Work by Thompson, subject of a 2022 Bockley Gallery solo show, is among the exhibition’s most personal, Jenkins writes:

Two of her pieces allude to unhealthy or abusive relationships. The Equivocator is a jumble of rope whose strands are stuffed inside stockings, suggesting a stomach tied in knots; I Get Mad Because I Love You repeats that phrase dozens of times in lettering made of white and silver beads.

Thompson also contributed On Loving, a set of three body bags inspired by the utilitarian container in which her father’s corpse was taken away by coroners. The artist’s bags reproduce the original, but with the added adornment of a morning-star pattern often seen on Ojibwe quilts. The juxtaposition suggests that tradition can comfort at a time of loss.

Maggie Thompson, I Get Mad Because I Love You, 2021–2022
beads, filament, jingles
photo by Todd Bockley

Sharing Honors and Burdens is on view through March 31, 2024.