Star Tribune photo by Tom Sweeney
Joe Horse Capture, the first Native American curator at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, is leaving for a new “Museum Specialist” post at the National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D. C. starting May 20. During 15 years in Minneapolis, he took what was once a token collection of American Indian art and helped expand and reposition it as a key attraction in a suite of galleries next to the museum’s special exhibits.
“This is just an opportunity that I can’t pass up,” said Horse Capture, adding that “There are, to my knowledge, only two Native American curators who work at a curatorial level in major art museums, myself and Deana Dartt at the Portland Art Museum in Oregon. Now I’m transferring from an art museum to a different kind of museum. . . . Part of the NMAI’s mission is to research, support and promote the native culture of all the Americas. It’s a place where Native Americans really come first. That’s a totally different approach.”
Highpoints of Horse Capture’s Minneapolis tenure include the 2010 show “Art of the Native Americans,” which featured 110 spectacular objects spanning 2500 years, and the 2009 exhibit “From Our Ancestors: Art of the White Clay People” showcasing garments and artifacts from Horse Capture’s own tribe, the A’anin or Gros Ventre.
The “White Clay People” show was “a small milestone” for Horse Capture because it explored the cultural history of his tribe and tapped the expertise of tribe members by having them catalog the objects. The museum also provided free copies of the exhibition catalogue to tribal members.
“I felt good about that because we were not only featuring this great work, but also giving them back the information they need to reinforce their cultural traditions,” Horse Capture said.
The Minneapolis post was Horse Capture’s first museum job though he comes from a distinguished family in the field. His now-retired father, George Horse Capture, was the first curator at the Plains Indian Museum at the Buffalo Bill Historical Center in Cody, Wyoming and later worked at the National Museum of the American Indian too. Besides his father, Horse Capture credits former MIA director Evan Maurer as “a great mentor who really gave me a lot of opportunity.”
Long-time museum MIA benefactor Robert Ulrich, a former Target executive, and other supporters provided funds to expand the Insitute’s American Indian collection which now ranges from ancient pottery to 20th century Navajo silver, Plains Indian garments, beaded moccasins and contemporary sculpture. Horse Capture’s most important acquisitions include an 18th century caribou-hide frock coat made by the Naskapi from what is now Newfoundland, and “Red Totem 1,” an abstract, geometric totem carved by the late George Morrison, a Minnesota Ojibwe.
“One of the things I’m particularly proud of is that the Institute has really developed a good, strong, positive relationship with our Native American community here,” Horse Capture said.
The Washington opportunity came at a good time in Horse Capture’s life. His daughter, Singer, graduated from high school in 2012 and, after a year studying in Vichy, France, will be a freshman at Dartmouth College this fall. His wife Lisa Ranallo, a registrar at the Institute, will be looking for work in Washington, D. C. this summer. Meanwhile, the family will rendez vous in France later this week while Horse Capture attends a museum-technology conference at the Musée du Quai Branly in Paris before heading to Amsterdam to do more work for the Minneapolis museum.