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Professor shares Native American art in Little Rock

A decade ago, a collector’s interest inspired Bobby Martin, associate professor of visual arts, to return to the art form he loved.

Now Martin is curating that very collector’s art in an exhibition dedicated to his favorite technique: printmaking.

“Indian Ink: Native Printmakers in the J.W. Wiggins Collection” opened Oct. 11 at the Sequoyah National Research Center at the University of Arkansas Little Rock.

“For me as an artist…it was really fun because I got to step into the shoes of a curator to pick and put the art together,” said Martin.
The show focuses on Native American printmakers.

“My main goal was promoting printmaking. I’m a printmaking evangelist,” said Martin. “A lot of these prints show the day to day lives of artists…in the Native [American] world.”

Most of the prints were from the collection of J.W. Wiggins, a prominent art collector and a retired professor at the University of Arkansas Little Rock.

According to Martin, Wiggins’ collection of Native American art has more than a thousand pieces and is one of the top five collections in the country.

“Its really exciting for me, because…[it’s] an opportunity to curate from a large and important collection and ask current artists to contribute,” said Martin.

“Indian Ink” includes 40 prints from Wiggins’ collection and an additional 12 prints commissioned by Martin for the show.

“Curating is a creative process,” said Wiggins. “You take a lot of small parts and make a coherent whole from it.”

Besides the focus on an art form near and dear to Martin’s heart, the show also took on special meaning for Martin because of his relationship with Wiggins.

“He’s been one of my main cheerleaders and an inspiration to me,” said Martin. “To work with him on this and take advantage of his collection…has been really special.”

Eight years ago, Wiggins’ interest in purchasing some of Martin’s prints helped encourage him after a decade of work in graphic design.

“He’s really one of the main people that pushed me back into art,” said Martin. “His interest and starting work here at JBU…made me realize God was kicking me along to get me into doing art again.”

Wiggins found Martin after seeing Martin’s print in the Gilcrease Museum in Tulsa. Wiggins tracked him down and commissioned him to make a similar print for his collection.

“I was just looking for art,” said Wiggins.

Martin said Wiggins has more than a business relationship with the artists he buys from.

“He’s not just buying art because he thinks it might be valuable someday. He’s buying from his friends,” said Martin.

Wiggins, in turn, was also positive about the job Martin did in curating from his own collection.

“When we had the opening, people were very complimentary of the job he had done,” said Wiggins. “He put it all together in an aesthetically pleasing way.”

The collection will be on display until Dec. 15.