Philip J. DeloriaJan 10, 2022
Becoming Mary Sully
Toward an American Indian Abstract
University of Washington Press 2019
Mary Sully was many things: a Dakota woman, an artist, and an American living through a heyday of early celebrity culture in the United States. All of these facets of her life and of her context are present in her art. In Becoming Mary Sully: Toward an American Indian Abstract (University of Washington Press, 2019), Harvard University professor and OAH President (and direct Sully relative) Phil Deloria uncovers Sully's artwork, long tucked away in family attics, and explains why it matters. Deloria argues that Sully's abstract "personality prints" representing various American celebrities of the early 20th century placed her outside the mainstream of the often "primitivist" Native art world of the era. Instead, Sully planted one foot firmly in modernism, while keeping the other rooted in Native art traditions, making her impossible to classify as one thing or another. Deloria tells a remarkably personal and beautiful story of an unheralded master of visual arts gazing into a new American and American Indian future and representing what she sees in vibrant color and intricate patterns, defying easy categorization and expectation.
Dr. Stephen R. Hausmann is an assistant professor of history at the University of St. Thomas in Minnesota.