Heard Museum, Phoenix, AZ
February 5 - July 3, 2021
Post-War Painting & Sculpture

Leon Polk Smith: Hiding in Plain Sight

Dedicated to the advancement of American Indian art, the Heard Museum successfully presents the stories of American Indian people from a first-person perspective, as well as exhibitions that showcase the beauty and vitality of traditional and contemporary art. The Heard Museum sets the standard for collaborating with American Indian artists and tribal communities to provide visitors with a distinctive perspective about the art of Native people, especially those from the Southwest. Since its founding in 1929, the Heard Museum has grown in size and stature to become recognized internationally for the quality of its collections, world-class exhibitions, educational programming and its unmatched festivals.


The exhibition Leon Polk Smith: Hiding in Plain Sight explored a significant source of the 20th century American artist’s inspiration, taking visitors on a visual journey that starts in Oklahoma Territory, where Smith was born and raised surrounded by Indigenous people and culture, to New York City where he would become a founding icon of mid-century modern art.

Curated by Joe Baker (Delaware) and Diana Pardue, Hiding in Plain Sight paired outstanding examples of late 19th and early 20th-century works of Indigenous art from Oklahoma Territory, including beadwork, hide painting, and ribbon applique, with Smith’s paintings. Featuring more than 40 works spanning seven decades of his legendary career, highlights include masterworks from his Constellation series. In the words of Leon Polk Smith, “I grew up in the Southwest, where the colors in nature were pure and rampant, and where my Indian neighbors and relatives used color to vibrate and shock.” 

The Carl & Marilynn Thoma Foundation’s $50,000 supported the publication of the exhibition catalogue.

In the News:

Leon Polk Smith: Hiding in Plain Sight

Why we partnered with the Heard Museum:

  • World-class museum with deep community ties and emphasis of collaborating with American Indian artists and tribal communities
  • Important new scholarship on a celebrated Southwestern artist connected to the Thoma Foundation’s post-war painting collection
  • Connection to two of the Thoma Foundation’s target states, Arizona and Oklahoma