Teaching Through Art Creation: An Interview with Francine Poitras Jones – Part 1

By Faith Wood. Middlebury College. Class of 2024.
Native Presence and Performance (First Year Seminar Course).

In spring 2021, Vera Longtoe Sheehan (Elnu Abenaki) met with the students of “Native Presence and Performance: Reclaiming the Indigenous Narrative,” a first-year seminar offered by Middlebury College. After the meeting, Longtoe Sheehan recommended the students interview and write about VAAA affiliated artists. This blog post is one of a series that were created for that project, respectfully submitted by a student who self-identifies as non-Native.

Due to the length of this narrative, it will be introduced in three parts over a period of three weeks.

Even at 72 years old, Francine Poitras Jones of the Nulhegan Abenaki tribe plays an active role in teaching through creation. Dressed in her traditional regalia, she often volunteers to visit the classroom to teach students about Abenaki games, songs, culture, and language. Her BlueWolfCrafts Etsy page boasts over 170 items of Native American hand-crafted items, from jewelry made with Wampum shells she herself gathered, to leather pouches and moccasins. Francine does not limit herself with just one or two mediums.[1] For example, in two-dimensional works, her art spans from acrylic painting, to sketches with India ink, to creating with watercolors. For as long as she can remember, Francine has loved and been naturally inclined to creating. “Being able to create things was born into me,” she admits.[2]

Image of beaded moccasins and peaked cap.
Beaded Moccasins and peaked cap

Image of wall hanging by Francine.
Great Blue Heron wall hanging

                At first, Francine studied the work of others in her community, including learning beading techniques from fellow Nulhegan citizen, Lori Lambert. Over time, she has been able to build upon what she has learned and incorporate own personal touches to her art work. These touches are often the inclusion of natural materials, like bark, twigs, shells, leather, and moose and deer scapula. In using these materials, Francine is helping elements of the natural world would otherwise go to waste live on forever. One particular painting incorporated actual bits of birch bark that were peeling off the tree. “It’s my way of thanking the tree for its beauty,” she says warmly.[3] In Francine’s community, animals are not hunted for trophies, only based upon need. If possible, every part of the animal should be used in order to honor its life. Sometimes, she will use animals that her sons have hunted in her art creation, but only after thanking the animal for its life and thanking Creator for providing such

[1] Poitras Jones, Francine. “Handmade Handcrafted Native American-Made Items by BlueWolfCrafts.” (Etsy), 26 Mar. 2021.

[2] Poitras Jones, Francine. Personal Interview. March 2021.

[3] Ibid.

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