Bialac collection shares Native lifestyles

click to enlarge Bialac collection shares Native lifestyles
(Collection of the Tucson Museum of Art. Gift of James T. Biala)
Hyrum Joe (b.1980), Diné, title unknown, oil on canvas. 17 x 20 in.

James T. Bialac collected indigenous artwork throughout his life, and now the Tucson Museum of Art is sharing his pieces.

Running through Sunday, Feb. 25, 2024, “Enduring Legacies: The James T. Bialac Indigenous Art Collection” features paintings and works on paper from indigenous artists of the late 20th and early 21st centuries.

Several vibrantly colored yarn paintings in his collection were created by artists from the Huichol community.

The pieces of art give further insight into the cultural traditions, histories, everyday experiences and artistic styles of regional artists from Arizona and other parts of the Southwest.

Tribal groups from Arizona, including the Hopi, Tohono O’odham and the Pascua Yaqui, are represented in the exhibit.

Christine Brindza, senior curator/Glasser curator of Art of the American West, said the title of the exhibition “Enduring Legacies” has several meanings.

“It’s the enduring legacies of these artists and the communities they come from, but it’s also the enduring legacies of him and his collection,” Brindza said.

“Bialac is woven throughout, but it’s not singularly on him. It’s looking at the artists and what they created.”

The exhibit fits in with the museum’s larger focus of highlighting diverse artists and cultures.

“It has been something we have been working on for the past few years through our IDEA Plan, which is our inclusion, diversity, equity and access plan, where we are trying to diversify our shows and our collections,” she said.

“We are trying to look at our communities more broadly and make sure that we have something for everyone.”

The museum recently received Bialac’s collection of around 400 works. The exhibit will be the debut of a portion of the collection.

“He helped to really double the indigenous arts collection that we have. Over the past few years, that has been a larger priority for TMA is to look at our holdings of indigenous art,” Brindza said.

Brindza said there are plans to use other pieces from his collection in future exhibitions and in the museum’s rotation.

As a collector, Bialac often got to know artists on a personal level.

“He was a very prolific collector over 70 years,” Brindza said.

“He was a lawyer who lived in Scottsdale and really made it his life’s work to collect Native art and bring more attention to it, support these artists and be friends with them. We had all of these things in mind as we are putting this show together. It’s a lot about relationships, friendships, the way that collectors and artists are with one another, a lot of these underlying themes.”

click to enlarge Bialac collection shares Native lifestyles
David Bradley (b. 1954), Chippewa, “Another Minnesota Folk Legend,” 1987, oil on canvas. 25 x 20 in.

Bialac also represented artists as a lawyer. The exhibit also looks at the relationships between the artists. Two of the artists featured in the exhibition—mother Pablita Velarde and daughter Helen Hardin—were adversaries in the art world, even though they shared a similar family legacy and artistic traditions.

There are also cousins and sisters and brothers in the show.

The exhibition spotlights prominent Native American artists, including expressionist painter Fritz Scholder.

Museum staff worked with a committee of indigenous scholars, who helped choose the exhibit’s pieces and themes.

“This wasn’t just one single curator deciding. It was a collaborative effort,” Brindza said.

“We did it last year for the opening of our indigenous arts gallery. We are building on what we are learning from these experiences. It’s a better way to reach out to our communities and get feedback and input that we need.”

Other prominent themes within the exhibit include nature, wildlife and animals, storytelling traditions, endurance and healing and ceremonial or celebratory dance forms.

Brindza said the artworks give viewers a glimpse into the artists’ personalities.

“It tells some really interesting stories and perspectives of these artists,” Brindza said.

Enduring Legacies: The James T. Bialac Indigenous Art Collection

WHEN: Various times through Sunday, Feb. 25, 2024

WHERE: John K. Goodman Pavilion, Tucson Museum of Art, 140 N. Main Avenue, Tucson

COST: $12 adults; $10 for seniors 65 and older; $7 for college students and youth 13 to 17; free for children 12 and younger, members, veterans and active military

INFO: 520-624-2333,

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