Archive | February, 2014

The Art of the Great Lakes Indians –Interview with Curator, William Johnson by Lauren Fowlkes

3 Feb

Q. What is the purpose of the The Art of the Great Lakes Indians exhibit?

     On January 21, 2009 the Ziibiwing Center premiered an exhibition entitled Artistic Expressions of the Great Lakes Indians. The exhibit drew primarily from the private collections of Laura Herrington of Royal Oak, Michigan; Tom Noakes of Canfield, Ohio; Richard Pohrt Jr. of Ann Arbor, Michigan and Mike Slasinski of Saginaw, Michigan. The cultural material that was presented dated just after the period of European contact into the early 20th century. The Art of the Great Lakes Indians is basically a continuance of that exhibit drawing from the Ziibiwing Center’s permanent collection and presenting cultural material from the late 19th century to the present.

Q. Where did you get the items for the exhibit?

   The Ziibiwing Center acquires and maintains collections to preserve and protect significant examples of Anishinabe cultural materials for present and future generations. These collections are used to support our educational programs. The Tribal community’s & general public’s access to the permanent collection is primarily through exhibition. The Ziibiwing Center can acquire objects through bequests, exchanges, field collection, gifts, purchases and transfers. Many of our permanent collection objects are gifts from the Tribal community.  

Q.  What do you hope people get out of the exhibit?

   The Ziibiwing Center and Cultural Resource Management Department work carefully to maintain the collections. The objects are respected not only in the physical sense but in the spiritual sense as well. The exhibition of objects is serious business. Accidents can occur if precautions are not taken and result in disfiguring or destroying an irreplaceable object. I hope people can gain a better understanding of the responsibility of placing an object on display and to appreciate the fact that authentic examples of Anishinabe art will be shown. You don’t have to go to the National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, DC to enjoy beautiful works of art.

Q. What is the most exciting thing about being able to moderate an exhibit like this?

    I’m often excited about the interaction with the visitors. The conversations and curiosity over the objects is always special. I like to be able to provide a safe environment for questions and to discuss things in an enthusiastic manner. The public’s knowledge runs the gamut. There are those that have little understanding and those that I would consider independent scholars with encyclopedic knowledge. The exhibition of cultural material is exciting because we’re providing educational opportunities for the public and reinforcing our position as the Midwest’s Premier American Indian Museum.   

Q. Is there a special story behind one of the artifacts?

    We will be displaying quillwork of the Bailey family. One of the most impressive things about these objects is the support we get from the Bailey family. Time and time again they will attend our exhibits and marvel at the wonder of their family’s work. It is not hard to get them excited about what they are seeing. It is truly an honor to host them & preserve their family’s history.

Q.  Can you expand on the idea that the exhibit will be inter-tribal and reflective of an evolving art style?

     There’s really nothing new under the sun. The Anishinabe have borrowed design concepts, color coordination and techniques from one another throughout time. I’m often amazed at those who can identify individual artists by merely looking at their work. It’s sometimes hard enough to culturally affiliate an object just by looking at it. Tribes do have their own individual style but it’s often hard to pinpoint. I’m most intrigued by new design concepts and the younger generation of bead workers. Traditional familial designs, while still being incorporated into works of art, are also being complemented with more individual designs that are appealing and important to the designer.

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