National Museum of the American Indian

Kimowan Metchewais [McLain], 1991-2011


Collection ID:
Metchewais [McLain], Kimowan
Physical Description:
871 Negatives (photographic)
1918 Slides (photographs)
989 Polaroid prints
15 Notebooks
0.8 Linear feet
1,496 Photographic prints
The collection of Kimowan Metchewais [McLain], significant First Nations artist, contains materials related to his artistic practice and his personal life. The materials include not only photographs of his art, completed and in-progress, but also sketchbooks and journal entries that give important context to his major works and artistic practices. The materials range from his early career in the early 1990s as a magazine editor to his solo and group exhibitions to his time as an art professor at various universities and images of his final works in 2011. McLain balanced both Western and Native artistic methods and history in his work, his archive provides valuable insight into the swiftly evolving and often contested world of contemporary Native American art.

Scope and Contents

Scope and Contents
The Kimowan Metchewais [McLain] collection spans the majority of Kimowan's artistic career from 1991 to 2011, beginning with his work as a comic illustrator and ending with one of his final pieces, Raincloud. Series 1: Works contains materials relating to his artistic works, mainly consisting of 4X6 color photographs, slides, and negatives of his completed works. There are also images of the works in progress, sources of inspiration for various pieces, and several items reflecting the various processes he used to create the final work, be it painting, "paper wall," installation, or a mixed media piece. Works of note include: After (1999), Map of Moths (2001), Cold Lake (2004), and Raincloud (2010). Series 2: Polaroids is Kimowan's collection of Polaroid prints. These prints were used as a reference collection by the artist, and reflect all aspects of his life and work: from intimate personal portraits of the artist, friends and family, to color studies, to documentation of nature and everyday items, the series is glimpse into the heart of the collection.
Series 3: Sketchbooks, is an equally revealing look into Kimowan's artistic practice and personal life. Documenting everything from his tobacco research, his thoughts on art history and teaching, designing his website, the creative process of exhibit planning, and numerous sketches in pen, pencil, and charcoal, the sketchbooks are an invaluable resource for understanding both the man and the work he created. Series 4: Personal Materials contains materials related to Kimowan's personal life- his travels around the U.S. and abroad, the works by other artists he felt were important to collect, published material related to his work and also his decisions on where to go to graduate school and where to apply for teaching positions. Series 5: Teaching Materialscontains materials concerning his teaching career- mainly slides of his student's work, and slides he used in his lectures. He taught art classes at both the University of New Mexico and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, on subjects ranging from "Drawing I" to "Native American Art in the 1980s."
The collection contains 4X6 color photographic prints, 35 mm color negatives, 3X5 Polaroid prints, and 35 mm color slides, noted if otherwise. Some titles are bracketed, this reflects a title that has been constructed during processing, titles not bracketed were generally assigned by the creator.


Collection is arranged by subject. Series 1: Works is arranged chronologically within the subseries, excepting the Works, General subseries. Series 2: Polaroids, retains the original order created by the artist. Images are separated by subject and arranged alphabetically. Series 3: Sketchbooks, is arranged chronologically when date is known. Series 4: Personal Materials, is arranged by subject and occasionally by format. Series 5: Teaching Materials contains slides which are arranged chronologically and by subject.

Biographical / Historical

Biographical / Historical
Kimowan Metchewais [McLain] was a significant figure in the Native art world. He was born in Oxbow, Saskatchewan, October 2, 1963. He used his step-father Bruce's name- McLain, until later in life when he began to go by his mother Ada's maiden name - Metchewais. He spent his childhood and early adulthood on the Cold Lake First Nations reserve in Alberta. He began his artistic career working as an illustrator and later editor at Windspeaker Native Newspaper from 1983 to 1989. From 1992 to 1996 he attended the University of Alberta in Edmonton, receiving his Bachelors of Fine Arts. It was during this time, in 1993, at age 29, that he was diagnosed with oligodendroglioma, a rare form of brain tumor. The surgery to remove the tumor and following radiation left McLain with a permanent bald spot on the back of his head would feature in his art in later years. He was told that life expectancy for this condition was 11-12 years. Despite his illness, in 1995 Kimowan received the Ellen Battel Stoekel Fellowship to spend the summer at Yale University and in 1996 he received a National Award from the Canadian Native Arts Foundation. He continued on to complete his Master of Fine Arts at the University of New Mexico, Albuquerque, New Mexico, from 1996 to 1999. It was there he met life-long friend Larry McNeil. Kimowan then made the move to Chapel Hill, North Carolina where he began teaching in the Art Department at the University of North Carolina, and continuing to exhibit his own work in both solo exhibitions and group exhibitions.
In Chapel Hill he lived in the neighborhood of Carrboro, a small, relaxed community attached to the larger college town. At this time, Kimowan developed an interest in "hooping" – hula-hooping as a spiritual activity--founding a collective and developing many close friendships through the hobby. He also began making trips home to Cold Lake and documenting the people and places there. In 2005, following symptoms of his tumor returning, McLain underwent a relatively complication-free surgery that allowed him to return directly to work, including participation in the well-received Loom exhibition. In 2007 Kimowan underwent surgery once again but due to complications from the surgery, Kimowan was left partially paralyzed. For a year, Kimowan worked diligently at rehabilitation, even developing his own rehab program he called "Kimochi," and was eventually able to return both to work and hooping. During his time at the hospital he met his eventual fiancée, Antje Thiessen.
Following his return to work, Kimowan continued to evolve his artistic practice – producing what some called his magnum opus - Cold Lake in 2004 and the evocative self-portrait Raincloud in 2010. Both pieces are examples of the space Kimowan gracefully navigated, between Native and Western sensibilities and artistic practices in his work. In 2011 his symptoms returned for a final time and he returned to his mother's home in St. Paul, Alberta, with Thiessen, for palliative care. He passed away on July 29, 2011. A retrospective of his work Horizon: Kimowan Metchewais (McLain) was shown that fall at the John and June Allcott Gallery, University of North Carolina.


Kelsey Moen
Immediate Source of Acquisition
Bequest of Kimowan Metchewais [McLain] in 2015.
Separated Materials
The National Museum of the American Indian has 185 of Kimowan Metchewais [McLain]'s works in their Modern and Contemporary Arts collection. These pieces have catalog numbers 26/9426 - 26/9610. To view these pieces, an Object Collections Research Request must be made two months in advance, using the form found at Kimowan Metchewais [McLain] also has an artist file held by the Vine Deloria Jr. Library, containing material relevant to this collection. It can be accessed by contacting the library by phone: (301) 238-1376 or email:
Processing Information
Processed by Kelsey Moen, intern, Summer 2016.

Digital Content

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Using the Collection

Conditions Governing Use
Permission to publish materials from the collection must be requested from National Museum of the American Indian Archive Center. Please submit a written request to For personal or classroom use, users are invited users to download, print, photocopy, and distribute the images that are available online without prior written permission, provided that the files are not changed, the Smithsonian Institution copyright notice (where applicable) is included, and the source of the image is identified as the National Museum of the American Indian.
Conditions Governing Access
Access to NMAI Archive Center collections is by appointment only, Monday - Thursday, 9:30 am - 4:30 pm. Please contact the archives to make an appointment (phone: 301-238-1400, email:
Preferred Citation
Identification of specific item; Date (if known); Kimowan Metchewais [McLain] Collection, Box and Folder Number; National Museum of the American Indian Archive Center, Smithsonian Institution.


Keywords table of terms and types.
Keyword Terms Keyword Types
Art -- American Indian Topical Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Indian art -- 21st century Topical Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Powwows Topical Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Photographic prints Genre Form Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Sketchbooks Genre Form Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Alberta Geographic Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
North Carolina -- Chapel Hill Geographic Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Negatives Genre Form Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Slides Genre Form Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Corporate Name Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
McNeil, Larry, 1950- Personal Name Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
University of New Mexico Corporate Name Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Cold Lake First Nations Corporate Name Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid

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