Prestigious Museum and Airport Commissions Propel the Career of Aboriginal Artist Lawrence | News, Sports, Jobs


photo by: Mike Yoder

Lawrence artist Mona Cliff, pictured on Sunday, September 19, 2021, recently received commissions to create artwork for the Kansas City Museum and the new Kansas City International Airport. His large-scale works, incorporating seed beads and wood, explore contemporary Native American identity and culture.

Mona Cliff says she was “a little blown out of the water” when she heard that her art had been selected to adorn a wall at the new $ 1.5 billion Kansas City airport, not just because that the competition was so stiff – less than 2% of the 1,900 artists who applied were chosen – but also because the ad “propelled” the already formidable year she was living professionally.

Earlier this year, she was selected to create a site-specific installation for the newly renovated Kansas City Museum, 3218 Gladstone Blvd., in Kansas City, Missouri.

“I think this has been a crucial point in my practice. And doing something this big really helped solidify my candidacy at the airport, ”she said.

The massive new international airport, started in March 2019, is about halfway there. The project, billed as the largest infrastructure project in Kansas City history, has a budget of $ 5.6 million for public art that represents the history or nature of the area.

photo by: Contributed

The images above, which are part of Mona Cliff’s art proposal for the Kansas City Airport, give a glimpse of what her 15-foot beadwork will look like in the airport lobby.

Cliff is a Native American artist – a member of the Gros Ventre tribe – who worked in various media, but who became well known nationally for her beadwork. His exhibit at the Kansas City Museum and his proposed airport exhibit both feature tens of thousands of tiny glass beads, called seed beads, affixed to wood with beeswax and other natural adhesives. .

The airport piece will be a 15 foot “organic abstraction” inspired by the prairie.

Cliff, originally from the Pacific Northwest, has spent the past 17 years living in Lawrence and has developed an appreciation for the region’s understated landscape.

“It’s a lot more subtle and delicate when you don’t have these huge mountains or whatever,” she said. “Something that inspires me a lot and that I love about Kansas is that you get all these beautiful cloud scenes.”

Although Cliff graduated in Fine Arts from Cornish College of the Arts in Seattle, it was his Native American grandmother who taught him beadwork. As a child, Cliff was not very interested in crafts, which were mainly devoted to decorative clothing, but when she moved to college, she began to feel “out of touch” with her culture.

“It was the first time that I was away from my family,” she said, and that’s when “I asked her to teach me.”

Her grandmother not only taught her, but, seeing how Cliff began to bead, eventually gave her her entire bead collection.

“She had been collecting for over 40 years,” Cliff said.

After Cliff graduated from college, she began a sort of nomadic existence.

“I traveled. I went to powwows and traveled all over the country. I actually lived in a tent and just wandered around the country,” she said. .

And while she wandered, she beaded. She began to understand that Native American crafts filled a huge gap in her education in the fine arts. She had learned a lot of skills, theories and perspectives in art school, but “I didn’t feel connected to my own history and culture.

photo by: Contributed

A detail from Mona Cliff’s work showing seed beads on wood.

Eventually, Cliff’s travels brought her to Lawrence, where she had parents who attended Haskell Indian Nations University. She too enrolled in Haskell, met her future husband, had three children, and decided to stay in Kansas.

For many years, she would have described her profession as a full-time mother, although she continued to bead, mostly crafting traditional Native American badges and teaching various art classes.

“Basically, I was just a stay-at-home mom and I was focusing on traditional arts, then around 2018 I decided to move on to pursue fine and contemporary art,” he said. she declared.

Now, with several pieces shown across the country and with her two recent commissions in Kansas City, it’s clear she’s made that leap.

Cliff’s installation at the Kansas City Museum will be on view on October 21. His piece on the airport will be on display in the spring of 2023, when the airport is scheduled to open.

Lawrence artist Hong Zhang was also among the privileged few who won airport commissions, as the Journal-World reported.

photo by: Contributed

Mona Cliff’s seed beads and wood installation at the Kansas City Museum.



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