Mohawk artist Towanna Miller discusses one of her paintings.
The “Mohawk of the Adirondacks” art exhibit opened Sept. 21 with a prayer.
Everyone at the Tahawus Lodge Center in Au Sable Forks went silent as Barbara Little Bear, of the Bear Clan, gave thanks.
Thanks to all of the people of the Earth, and to the small water, the rain, and the oceans.
Thanks to all the roots and medicines that come from the ground and support everything that lives on the Earth, and to the three sisters: corn, beans and squash.
Thanks to the flowers and grasses and to the strawberries, the heart of Mother Earth.
Little Bear recited the prayer in her people’s native tongue, a language her grandmother forbade her to speak as a child for fear she’d be persecuted.
As an adult, Little Bear learned the language so she can communicate with her ancestors after she dies.
Tradition and ancestory are prevalent in the artwork on display, and the colors—vibrant autumn reds and yellows, deep blues and greens, and earth-tone shades of brown and gray—invoke images of the Adirondack wilderness.
The six featured Mohawk artists—Cheyanne Doxtator, Star Horn, Barbara Little Bear, Towanna Miller, Kakwirakeron R. Montour and Natasha Smoke Santiago—also utilize an array of mediums in their work, including soapstone sculpture, beadwork, pottery, jewelry, drawing, moose hair tufting and painting.
“The theme I wanted here is to show how the Mohawk are tied to this area,” said Margaret Horn, the exhibition’s curator. “It’s a bigger objective of trying to reintroduce Mohawk culture.”
Horn chose the artists and the work on display, and is hoping the exhibit can encourage a dialog about her people.
“I’ve lived in Jay with my son and my granddaughter and there is nothing in this whole region that I can identify as a Mohawk group,” Horn said. “We were originally from this area.”
Horn is taking an active role in getting Mohawks noticed in the region.
Soon, she will be teaching a beading and oral history workshop to fourth-grade students in Au Sable Forks Elementary School.
But the exhibit, she said, was a good place to start.
Horn’s idea of using art as a means of teaching others about the Mohawks is a natural fit because the culture is imbedded in the work.
Natasha Smoke Santiago stood beside a display case containing some of her work—a painted cast of a woman’s pregnant belly, a traditional pipe and two clay pots.
“The Mohawk word for a pot describes the woman’s body,” Santiago said. “Her neck, shoulders and belly; you can see the resemblance.”
The pots were placed directly onto hot coals for cooking, and the insides were coated with bear lard to prevent water from leaking and to make the surface non-stick.
The shape also helped trap heat near the bottom of the pot, making it easier to maneuver after being placed on the coals.
There are details on the pots that reveal aspects of Mohawk culture, too.
Santiago points to an etched zigzag pattern near the rim of one of the pots.
“If you look at it one way it represents mountains, if you look at it the other way, rows of corn,” Santiago said.
Santiago’s work, which also includes paintings, has been featured in galleries in Santa Fe, Quebec and most recently, the Museum of Arts and Design in New York City.
The Mohawk of the Adirondacks exhibit is open 1-4 p.m. Thursday-Sunday, through Oct. 12.
It is the first exhibition of its kind at the Tahawus Lodge, which was built in 1911 by the Freemasons and was acquired by the Appleby Foundation in 2009.
These days, the lodge’s owners, Craig Brashear and Rebecca Kelly, have ambitious plans for the building.
They’d like to open the basement and first floor to retail space, move the gallery to the second floor and use the third floor as space for activities such as ballet and yoga workshops.
Flooding from Tropical Storm Irene held them back a little, but things are beginning to come together.
“There’s always something to do, always a way to give back to the community,” Brashear said.
The Lodge will host a holiday train exhibit from Dec. 15 through the holiday season, and has other events throughout the year.
For more information, visit TahawusLodgeCenter.org or call 647-2106.