Kay WalkingStick, Loss, 1989. Installed in Art Since 1948 at Krannert Art Museum, University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, 2021.

by Jon Seydl, Museum Director


Last year Krannert Art Museum acquired Loss, an important painting by Kay WalkingStick, one of the most significant Native American artists active today. Loss has two parts—a turbulent waterfall at right and abstract forms at left. Its surface is unusually tactile, a result of mixing paint and wax together, and she primarily used her hands, rather than brushes, to apply the paint, in some parts scraping away to reveal colors underneath.

Loss is part of a series WalkingStick created in response to the loss of her husband while she was teaching at Cornell University. The waterfall depicts one of the famous gorges of Ithaca, New York, and she developed the abstract forms as a reflection on Chief Joseph, the Nez Perce leader who resisted removal by the American government in the 1800s. For WalkingStick, the two sides represent a duality of the spiritual and the tangible, and she painted the abstract forms on a bulkier canvas which stands out several inches from the wall as a way to emphasize the greater and more lasting power of the spiritual.

This powerful meditation on personal loss reminds us of the capacity of art to repair trauma and to heal our communities. The painting, one of the first works you will see in Art Since 1948, our installation of modern and contemporary art at KAM, also underscores our commitment to center Native voices and to present outstanding contemporary art by indigenous artists, long neglected by the university, but now a focus of several units on campus, including American Indian Studies, Native American House, and Krannert Art Museum.

Privately raised funds allowed us to bring this work to Illinois: the John Needles Chester endowment, established in the 1950s to beautify the U of I System campuses, and a much more recent endowment generously established for art acquisition by Richard and Rosann Gelvin Noel.