The Keeper of the Plains is turning 39, and the statue’s birthday brings with it the opening of a new exhibit that will offer the community a closer look at the artist who created the Wichita landmark.
On Saturday, the Mid-America All-Indian Center will open its newest exhibit, “Tsate Kongia: Walking in Two Worlds, the Life of Blackbear Bosin.” It’s an in-depth, multi-dimensional look at the personal and professional life of a local icon.
“Living in this area, you always hear the name Blackbear Bosin,” said Angela Cato, marketing director for the city of Wichita’s Arts and Cultural Services division. “The name takes on greater meaning to you when you step inside this exhibit and get to know this man who cared so deeply for his American Indian culture and for this city. You really begin to get a feeling, too, for the impact that he had nationally. He had such a great effect on allowing people to see the American Indian culture in a beautiful and true light.”
A special admission price of $1 is being offered for the opening day — 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday.
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The exhibit will be part of a new permanent collection and is a culmination of a long effort by the museum to amass works and artifacts by Bosin, who created the statue, which was installed at the confluence of the Big and Little Arkansas rivers on May 18, 1974.
The exhibit’s goal is to give the community a greater understanding of the man who gifted Wichita with one of its most notable markers. More than 50 pieces of art and personal items will be on display, including paintings, photos, comics, audio recordings and vintage film footage. Several items are recent acquisitions and have not been previously available to the public.
Notable pieces include a coin Bosin designed for the Franklin Mint, a panel of comics he once pitched as a concept, a pipe that he famously smoked in his workshop and a paper matchbook bearing the name of his studio. Also of note is a 10-minute movie that combines footage from an old 16mm film of Bosin being interviewed. Interwoven is audio of a recorded conversation with him a month before he died. Also appearing are friends, family and colleagues, all commenting on what he offered to the art world and to the community. It will play on loop as part of the exhibit.
“All of this together is a telling of the whole man,” Cato said. “It’s showing people things that maybe they didn’t expect him to do. His whole being was about honoring his heritage and showing it off to everyone else.”
Bosin was a world-known Comanche-Kiowa artist originally from Oklahoma. He served in World War II but wasn’t on active duty. While stationed at a military hospital in Hawaii, Bosin, who was mostly self-taught, learned to paint to pass time. Much of his concentration was on surrealist-style abstracts, particularly painting with acrylics and watercolors. He is heralded for helping enhance a strong appreciation and better understanding of his American Indian heritage by offering scenes and tales of his culture as central themes in his works. In 1955, National Geographic published his “Prairie Fire” painting.
His Kiowa name was Tsate Kongia, which means “black bear.” It was given to him in honor of his great-grandfather, who was a Kiowa chief. While many are familiar with Bosin’s Keeper of the Plains piece, the only known three-dimensional work that he created, Cato said this exhibit showcases a lifetime of art that evolved through the years.
“Everyone knows the Keeper statue … it’s iconic to our area,” she said. “In giving this gift to the city, he helped give us a sense of place, a sense of where we came from as a community, where our roots are, giving us something to be proud of. This exhibit builds on that to exemplify his life. He was doing something he was proud of and showing it off for everyone to get something out of. It has huge symbolism.”