Retrospective of Influential Native American Artist T.C. Cannon Makes Final Stop at National Museum of the American Indian in New York  

Exhibition Features Cannon’s Signature Paintings; Provides Multi-Dimensional View Through Artist’s Powerful Poetry and Music
November 29, 2018
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Two Guns Arikara

T. C. Cannon (1946–1978, Caddo/Kiowa), Two Guns Arikara, 1974–77. Acrylic and oil on canvas. Anne Aberbach and Family, Paradise Valley, Arizona. Copyright 2019 Estate of T. C. Cannon. The exhibition “T.C. Cannon: At the Edge of America,” organized by the Peabody Essex Museum, runs April 6 to Sept. 16, 2019, at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian in New York City. Photo by Thosh Collins.

The Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian, George Gustav Heye Center in New York will host the final showing of “T.C. Cannon: At the Edge of America” April 6 through Sept. 16. Organized by the Peabody Essex Museum (PEM), the retrospective examines the life and career of T.C. Cannon (Caddo and Kiowa, 1946–1978), a Native American artist who mastered multiple artistic disciplines. Despite Cannon’s short life, he produced a wide-ranging oeuvre. “At the Edge of America” features nearly 80 works, including many of his best-known paintings, supplemented by works on paper, poetry and musical recordings. The exhibition is a testament to Cannon’s craft and a personal exploration of a life and career affected by the politics and society of America in the mid-20th century. 

A press preview will take place Thursday, April 6, from 10 a.m. to noon. For more information or to attend, email

“What is evident in the artistry of T.C. Cannon is intelligent and emotionally resonant commentary about the cultural landscape of the times in which he lived,” said Kevin Gover (Pawnee). “Cannon was a visionary at the forefront of broadening and reshaping the boundaries of Native artistic narratives. The imagery he created was stunningly authentic and has influenced the work of many other artists, Native and non-Native alike.”

Cannon’s artwork channels his cultural heritage, experience as a Vietnam War veteran and the turbulent social and political climate that defined the 1960s and ’70s in the United States. Amid ongoing national and global conversations about ethnic identity, social justice, land rights and cultural appropriation, Cannon’s work continues to engage issues that are as relevant now as they were 50 years ago.

“Never shying from the complexity and nuance of identity politics, Cannon interrogated American history and popular culture through his Native lens and showed us that Native American history and culture are integral to the American experience,” said Karen Kramer, exhibition curator and PEM’s curator of Native American and Oceanic art and culture.

Cannon grew up in a rural farming community in southeastern Oklahoma, raised by his Kiowa father and Caddo mother. He left home in 1964 to attend school in Santa Fe, New Mexico, at the Institute of American Indian Arts. At the height of the counterculture movement, and in the Kiowa warrior cultural tradition, Cannon enlisted in the U.S. Army and spent almost a year in Vietnam in 1968. Cannon earned two Bronze Star medals for his service in the Tet Offensive as a paratrooper. His poetry and letters from this period reveal his conflicted feelings. His experience in Vietnam had a significant effect not only his emotional landscape, but also his visual expressions of his experience there.

In 1972, Cannon had a significant career breakthrough. The National Collection of Fine Arts, now the Smithsonian American Art Museum, invited him and his former instructor Fritz Scholder to be in a two-person exhibition, “Two American Painters: Fritz Scholder and T.C. Cannon.” The exhibition was a landmark success. Jean Aberbach, the owner-dealer of Madison Avenue’s Aberbach Gallery, purchased almost all of Cannon’s canvases off the gallery walls and signed Cannon, representing him nationally and internationally for the remainder of his life. Although he drew and sketched prolifically, Cannon painted no more than 50 major canvases and produced just a handful of exquisite woodblock prints and linocuts before a car accident ended his life in 1978. 

““T.C. Cannon: At the Edge of America” is organized by PEM, Salem, Massachusetts. The exhibition was made possible by an award from the National Endowment for the Arts. All works in the exhibition are by T.C. Cannon unless otherwise mentioned. This exhibition would not have been possible without the support of Joyce Cannon Yi, executor of the Estate of T.C. Cannon. Carolyn and Peter S. Lynch and The Lynch Foundation, and Ellen and Steve Hoffman provided support. PEM also recognizes the generosity of the East India Marine Associates of the Peabody Essex Museum. The New York presentation of this exhibition and related programming is made possible through the support of The Nathan Cummings Foundation and Ameriprise Financial.

Edited by Kramer, T.C. Cannon: At the Edge of America focuses on the artist’s life and work through art historical and interdisciplinary essays from scholars, painters, and those who knew him, as well as the presentation of newly published personal ephemera, photographs and handwritten and typewritten manuscript pages. A special selection of original poetry from Native poets Joy Harjo, Sherwin Bitsui, Joan Naviyuk Kane and Santee Frazier celebrates the artist’s legacy and his ongoing inspiration. The 244-page hardcover edition is available at

The Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian

The National Museum of the American Indian is committed to advancing knowledge and understanding of the Native cultures of the Western Hemisphere—past, present and future—through partnership with Native people and others. The museum’s George Gustav Heye Center is located in the Alexander Hamilton U.S. Custom House at One Bowling Green in New York City. For additional information, including hours and directions, visit Follow the museum via social media on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

The Peabody Essex Museum

Over the past 20 years, the Peabody Essex Museum (PEM) has distinguished itself as one of the fastest-growing art museums in North America. Founded in 1799, it is also the country’s oldest continuously operating museum. The museum’s collection is among the finest of its kind boasting superlative works from around the globe and across time, including American art and architecture, Asian export art, photography, maritime art and history, Native American, Oceanic and African art. Visit for more information.

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