In May 2012, then Vermont governor Peter Shumlin signed into law the state recognition of four of Vermont’s Abenaki tribes: the Elnu, Nulhegan, Koasek and Missisquoi. The victory had more than symbolic significance: Formal recognition meant that many of Vermont’s contemporary indigenous artists could begin legally to label their work as “American Indian.” According to Elnu Abenaki member Vera Longtoe Sheehan, access to this designation has opened many new doors — including, at least indirectly, doors to galleries.
Such fraught politics of visibility and authenticity are very much at the heart of “Alnobak: Wearing Our Heritage,” now on view at the Amy E. Tarrant Gallery in Burlington. The show offers a chronological survey of Abenaki fashion and adornment, from the pre-Champlain era to the present day, accompanied by both modern and historical photographs.
There’s a twist, though: Almost all of the objects on view are contemporary, regardless of the era they were created to represent. While reproductions are often considered to be lesser facsimiles, in this case, the absence of “traditional” artifacts speaks to the 20-plus artists’ ongoing commitment to making their history and heritage come alive.
A new exhibit at the Amy E. Tarrant Gallery highlights the wearable art of the Abenaki population in and around Vermont.
“Alnobak: Wearing Our Heritage” opened Saturday with a discussion by co-curators Vera Longtoe Sheehan of the Vermont Abenaki Artists Association and Eloise Beil of the Lake Champlain Maritime Museum. The exhibit will be on display through June 17.
VPR also picked up the story of the exhibit. See their coverage here.
On Friday, Feb. 24, the Indigenous Peoples Alliance, founded by senior Lina Longtoe, hosted Director of the Vermont Abenaki Artists Association Vera Longtoe-Sheehan to talk to the community about the Decolonization of Native American Art.
Longtoe-Sheehan presented students with some of the experiences and realities she and so many other Native American artists have endured, including the issue of making and selling authentic Native American art.
Due in large part to the Indian Arts and Craft Act of 1990, indigenous communities like the Abenaki tribe, to which both Longtoe and Longtoe-Sheehan belong, couldn’t legally sell their art as authentic Native American works for decades.
From the separation of families by arbitrary lines to a state-wide eugenics program, this was just one in a long succession of abuses the two later explained. Through it all, the Abenaki people kept their pride. “We never surrendered, we never gave up, we did, however, have to hide in plain sight,” Sheehan-Longtoe said.
Read the full story by Angelique Herring in The Current Online, the official student newspaper at Eckerd College in St. Petersburg, FL. Photo above by Angelique Herring also.
I am an Abenaki artist from Vermont. I have been carving for about 4 years, with the last 2 researching 18th-century material culture. I do other arts as well but am very proud of this piece.
Melody Walker Brook, a citizen of the Elnu Abenaki Tribe, visited the children in the four- and five-year old classrooms at the Heartworks Preschool in Stowe on Oct. 28. She shared stories, music and traditional items like clothing, games, baskets, beads, and musical instruments. Brook’s presentation was part of the school-wide theme of Native Americans that students in Heartworks will explore during November. Brook, an activist and artist, is an adjunct professor at Champlain College (story correction) where she teaches Native American Worldview and Spirituality, Native American History and Culture, and Abenakis and Their Neighbors. She is a member of the Vermont Abenaki Artist Association, which works to promote Vermont’s indigenous arts and artists.
See the original story in the Stowe Reporter at StoweToday.com.