Category Archives: Artist

AMY HOOK THERRIEN – Acclaimed ABENAKI WATERCOLOR ARTIST – PART 2

Sylvan Linck ‘24.5 – Middlebury College

FYSE 1570: Native Presence and Performance – 13 May 2021

Due to the length of this narrative, it will be introduced in two parts over a period of two weeks. This is part two.

Therrien also illustrated the book My Bring Up, which was a memoir written by her mother Shirly Hook and published in 2019. Therrien worked closely with her mother in order to create from memory the most accurate portrayals of different aspects of Hook’s life, beginning in her early life growing up in Chelsea, Vermont. The book covers some of the ways in which Hook’s Abenaki heritage influenced her family’s life, writing about “the traditions that helped her family put food on the table, the legacy of the eugenics program in Vermont, and the ties of love and respect that bind neighbor to neighbor.” 

Image of book cover for My Bring Up by Shirly Hook.
Book available for purchase on Amazon

Therrien “read her book over and over again” and tried her best to “come up with the right image to accompany each story.” Sometimes she chose to illustrate bigger, more important seeming things, but occasionally chose to illustrate an object from the story that might seem small and insignificant at first. She made this choice to display how some seemingly meaningless things could actually be very important and influential in shaping her mother’s life. She believes that illustrating My Bring Up “was another way to have a conversation with her about our family history.” When creating the illustrations, her process was to sketch images and then report back to her mother for feedback. When they would back together to discuss the illustrations “more stories and information came up,” and the artwork and knowledge behind it would expand. She found this a very insightful project. 

Image of Thorned Blue Bird by Amy Hook-Therrien.
Thorned Blue Bird

Therrien has been involved with the Vermont Abenaki Artist Association (VAAA) for many years. She has been a VAAA Juried Artist since 2014 and is now serving as a council member of the organization. Therrien was honored to receive the title of VAAA Artist of the Year in 2019, and in our interview stated that “as a contemporary artist, it’s nice that there is a place for me among such talented traditional artists.” She believes that being involved with the VAAA has “helped her find her place in the Abenaki community,” through her ability to connect with people through her art. In the words of Linda Tuhiwai Smith in her book Decolonizing Methodologies, “connecting is related to issues of identity and place, to spiritual relationships and community well-being.” Art is one of many ways for individuals to find their place in a community.

Sources Cited

Therrien believes that the goal of the VAAA is to “educate through art,” and that through the traditional and contemporary art created by the members [the VAAA] can educate communities about the Abenaki People.” She believes that communities are often greatly influenced and shaped by art, and that “art shows the identity of people and cultures.” Creating and sharing art is also a powerful way to celebrate Native strength and resilience throughout history, as well as “foster inventions and discoveries, facilitate simple improvements to people’s lives and uplift [peoples] spirits.” The art that Amy Hook Therrien and other Abenaki and Native artists create in ways that connect communities, educate people about Native culture, and through pieces such as An Aerial View of N’dakinna, inspire viewers to explore different perspectives. 

“About.” Therrien, March 29, 2021. https://amyhooktherrien.com/about/. 

Hook-Therrien, Amy. “Illustrating My Bring Up.” Therrien, January 6, 2020. https://amyhooktherrien.com/2020/01/06/illustrating-my-bring-up/. 

Tuhiwai Smith, Linda. “Twenty-Five Indigenous Projects.” Essay. In Decolonizing Methodologies: Research and Indigenous Peoples, 143–64. Dunedin, N.Z.: Otago University Press, 2012. 

“Amy Hook Therrien.” Vermont Abenaki Artists Association, 2021. https://abenakiart.org/blog9/amy-hook/. 

Sylvan, Linck. Amy Hook Therrien. Other, 2021. 

“Team Members.” Vermont Abenaki Artist Association, 2019. abenakiart.org/home/team_members. 

Woa. “An Interview with Amy Hook-Therrien, VT Abenaki Artist Association Artist of the Year 2019.” Vimeo, May 4, 2021. https://vimeo.com/467453764. 

Amy Hook Therrien – Acclaimed Abenaki Watercolor Artist – Part 1

Sylvan Linck ‘24.5 – Middlebury College

FYSE 1570: Native Presence and Performance – 13 May 2021

Due to the length of this narrative, it will be introduced in two parts over a period of two weeks. This is part one.

Amy Hook Therrien is a local artist who specializes in watercolor painting and is a citizen of the Koasek Traditional Band of the Koas Abenaki Nation. Therrien grew up with her family in Chelsea, Vermont in a house overlooking the valley, and surrounded by nature. She graduated from Randolph Union High School and, with the support and encouragement of her parents, attended the University of Maine in Orono to study art. She considers herself very lucky to have such a supportive relationship with her family. While at the University of Maine in Orono she majored in fine art and specialized in painting and sculpture. Therrien moved back to Vermont after graduation, and is living in Windsor with her husband Alex, along with their bunny and two dogs. When she isn’t creating art, she loves spending time with family, traveling, and getting outside to do activities such as hiking and gardening. She is also a Traditional Abenaki singer, and for a time participated in an Abenaki singing group. 

Therrien often starts her paintings by drawing lines and details with pen and then going over those drawings with watercolor. When first beginning to incorporate watercolor into her work, the fluidity and uncontrollability of the medium made her nervous. However, with time and practice, she “learned to love the uncontrollable chaos” of it. She often purposefully mixes her paint loosely to allow the paint to separate in a way that creates a more exciting and realistic texture. Therrien believes that “painting in nature is always exciting,” and loves painting things that she finds outdoors. She is passionate about exploring that excitement, and enjoys painting natural things such as landscapes, flowers, leaves, waterfalls, stones, and is “obsessed” with painting birch trees, which she really loves. 

Therrien sometimes enjoys going on walks or hikes either by herself or with family to find inspiration for her paintings. When experiencing some trouble thinking of the next project idea, she enjoys painting leaves. Painting leaves is a way to continue creating while possibly helping to inspire a new project idea. When the objects she is painting are small enough, like leaves, she often brings them back to her studio to paint there. While painting outside sounds romantic and lovely, logistically it is quite difficult, and she prefers to work in her studio. When the subject of her painting cannot be brought into her studio, she often takes pictures of it and brings those back to her studio to work with. 

When choosing what to paint in nature she rarely picks the “perfect” leaf, tree, or other subject. She finds great value in painting “imperfect” subjects, such as a cracked up dead leaf or a flower that is missing a petal. Nothing in nature is perfect, and nothing looks exactly the same. Painting things in nature and painting them realistically and “imperfectly” allows for more freedom in her painting style and her paintings. She believes that “you can fall in love with the imperfect.”  One of Therrien’s pieces titled Aerial View of N’dakinna, appears in a Study Guide that the Vermont Abenaki Artist Association created to educate people about the Abenaki and their dress throughout time. The painting of N’dakinna, meaning homeland, is placed next to a geopolitical map of the same area. The painting contains no place names or borders and shows the very “different perspective that the Native people have of the land.” It is a drastic visual shift from the geopolitical map next to it, and it sometimes takes longer for people to recognize the area when portrayed in this way. Therrien herself says that “I know if I hadn’t painted it would take me a little while to place it.”  Her piece challenges European dominated thinking and inspires a new perspective more inclusive of Native people.

Melody (Walker Brook) Mackin: Weaving Core Values Through Time – Part 2

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 two parts over a period of two weeks. This is part two.

Annabelle Wyman 24.5 – Middlebury College

Native Presence and Performance – 1 June 2021

Melody also uses cultural weaving to move forward from the injustices of the past. When I asked her about the Abenaki history with colonization, she shared the advice of her Chief, Roger Longtoe Sheehan, on rebuilding traditions through the analogy of a broken puzzle. Their community is still trying to piece the puzzle together today, but the painting is different so you can never piece the original one together. However, the ancestors knew that life was going to change, so it is okay for the picture to change, because some traditions no longer fit into the current native culture. Melody thinks that the important thing to ask is “what do ancestors want me to bring forward and what do I want to bring forward?” She believes that through cultural weaving, she can help bring forward the core values of her ancestors. When we discussed the finger weaving tradition and its value, she explained that she does not think art is the most important part of her culture and heritage. The best aspects of Abenaki culture cannot be dug up at an archaeological site and returned to its Native owners. It is more important to understand the way the ancestors walked in the world and how they worked to make it better. With the help of her Chief, she began to ask herself whether it was more important to honor the material culture or the lessons the ancestors left with you and the fact that you survived. This is another one of Tuhiwai Smith’s indigenous projects in action. Survivance is achieved by Native cultures through teaching and storytelling. Celebrating survival is used to help bring forward indigenous values to the future. Melody celebrates the survival of her culture and uses cultural weaving to pass on the weaving tradition and most importantly, the core values of her ancestors. 

As we began to end our conversation, I asked Melody what she is currently working towards, and she told me about land activism. She explained that one of the most important parts of Abenaki identity is land — N’Dakinna — as it is central to who they are. Without a reservation or land that is designated for Abenaki use, fully reconnecting with her heritage can at times be difficult. Nevertheless, the Abenaki have been on this land for 10,000 years and will be here for another 10,000 years. They are the original inhabitants of this land and know how to take care of it. Their community works very hard to protect spiritual sites and to fight developers who are trying to build on them. The goal of land rights activism is less about having land returned to the Abenaki, and more about protecting it from industrial uses and educating people about how to care for land. Land activism is one of Melody’s ways of envisioning a better future for her community, and more importantly the whole country, as the treatment of land is so important for our survival. Her fight is now about being heard by legislators, particularly in Vermont, and convincing people with power to listen to the wisdom of the Native community. But it is not just a fight for Abenaki people; those of us whose settler-colonist ancestors refused to listen also need to help create a space for Native people to be heard. 

Melody (Walker Brook) Mackin is a truly influential and devoted member of the Elnu Abenaki Tribe who uses her work as an educator and activist to protect the land which holds spiritual significance for her people. Above all, she is a cultural weaver who works to bring the core values of her ancestors forward to the next generations and teach others about the value of Abenaki culture. I am incredibly honored to have interviewed her, and I will carry the wisdom she imparted upon me by using my power as a non-native member of the Vermont community to help elevate Native voices like hers. 

Bibliography: 

Brook, Melody Walker. Interview by Annabelle Wyman. March 21, 2021.

Brook, Melody Walker. Weaving a Thread through the 7 Generations, TEDxStowe, 

2018. YouTube, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vFSRiQ2h6NY&t=60s.

Tuhiwai Smith, Linda. “Twenty-five Indigenous Projects.” Decolonizing Methodologies: 

Research and Indigenous Peoples, Zed Books, 2012, pp. 143-164.

Vermont Abenaki Artist Association. Melody Mackin: Elnu Abenaki Tribe. 

Melody (Walker Brook) Mackin: Weaving Core Values Through Time – Part 1

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 two parts over a period of two weeks. This is part one.

Annabelle Wyman 24.5 – Middlebury College

Native Presence and Performance – 1 June 2021

Melody Mackin is a wonderful finger weaver, diligent activist, ardent educator, and devoted member of the Elnu Abenaki Tribe. In March of 2021, I had the privilege of speaking with her about this work and what she believes are the important aspects of Abenaki culture and history. Melody was taught to weave by two of her community members, Linda Longtoe Sheehan and Rose Hartwell, both of whom provided her with information on different facets of weaving. She explains that Linda taught her about the value of deliberate, slow, and methodical work while Rose taught her the intricacies of the craft and helped Melody to develop her own style of finger weaving. In the Abenaki community, finger weaving is deeply interwoven with the personality of the artist. The artist who creates the project incorporates their own techniques and methods to the process that bring their own style to the piece. Weaving has not changed much over the thousands of years it has been in existence, and members of the Abenaki community continue the tradition by using the same patterns, techniques, and materials as their ancestors to create a nearly identical product. However, the projects that are completed today are often very different than the ones of the past. Many products that were originally needed are not necessary today. Instead of ceremonial sashes, modern weavers have created pieces such as cell phone cases; beautifully connecting modern needs with traditional practices. 

When Melody first began learning, there were only a limited number of finger weavers left in the community. She used her new skills to teach others in her family and the community, which then helped the number of weavers to multiply. She also took the time to teach non-native people from outside of her community in schools and at gatherings (most notably the Affirming Traditions Conference) in an effort to raise awareness about indigenous art forms. As Melody began to teach weaving to other members of her community, she came to a realization: her students were creating amazing products their first or second time weaving. She explains that her ancestors showed her that she was meant to be a teacher and should use her skills to educate others about the Abenaki community. 

In her book Decolonizing Methodologies, Linda Tuhiwai Smith introduces twenty-five indigenous projects that serve to help Native communities in their attempts to conduct research and renew their tribal identities and culture. She explains that Protecting is a project used to ensure the continuation of oral and cultural tradition. Melody exemplifies this project by using her knowledge and passion for teaching to share her skills with her community and thus protect the art of finger weaving from extinction. As she began to explore her passion for teaching further, Melody worked at Johnson State College where she taught Abenaki history, culture, and spirituality, and Native American history and culture. After Johnson State College, she taught a class called “Making Connections” at Champlain College. This class was about bringing a community together and building cohesive relationships; which is the ideology that shapes Melody’s current work as an educator and mentor in the Abenaki community. Then she went on to Northern Virginia Community College to teach history of western civilization and U.S. history. Melody also gave a wonderful TedTalk entitled, “Weaving a Thread Through the 7 Generations” in which she explains her process of cultural weaving. Cultural weaving is a way to reconnect with the past in order to move through the world in a way that respects your ancestors from the past and in the future. It is done by bringing the core values of the community –– seeing the spirit in all things and understanding one’s role in the community of creation –– into daily life and using them to make decisions in the present for the seven generations. The seven generations that the Abenaki community focuses on are the generations that you can live with, from your great-grandparents to your great-grandchildren. With every decision Melody makes, she works to honor the past, present, and future of her community. Unlike western civilization, the Abenaki community does not focus on the individual, it focuses on everyone, including the ancestors. Melody explained to me that walking in your ancestors’ shoes is a beautiful exercise that helps with this practice. She says that “the whole point of the seven generations is to understand where you’ve been to understand where you need to go.” This is a beautiful practice that could deeply change the culture of the U.S. In fact, Melody contends that if everyone made decisions based upon respect for their ancestors in the past and present, the world would be a much better place.

An Interview With Jim Taylor – Part 3

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 was introduced in three parts over a period of three weeks. This is Part Three.

Jim Taylor

By Tate Sutter ’24.5
Middlebury College

Native Presence and Performance

1 June 2021  

Image of quillwork by Jim Taylor.
Quillwork by Jim Taylor

On Turtle Island, museums’ histories and relations with Indigenous Americans are fraught with lies, disregard, and theft. Native works can often be found in auction houses and museums; many of these pieces were stolen or coerced from Indigenous peoples. Returning these works to Native peoples allows for proper interactions to take place between them. Wampum belts “are living and breathing.” They do not belong sealed away in museum archives. JT, who regularly checks auction house websites for Native art and traditional pieces, saw two Wampum belts listed on Sotheby’s, a New York based auction house. He sent an image of the belts to a friend who sent it to the Onondaga Nation of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy. The Onondaga “discovered that one of the belts… was stolen from them… by Frank Speck,” a twentieth- century anthropologist. The other belt, they identified as Abenaki. JT joined “a delegation of Abenaki and Haudenosaunee people [to New York City] … We petitioned them to basically give us back the belts and the lawyers for Sotheby’s said they couldn’t.” However, Sotheby’s did refuse to auction the belts. The family selling the belts had purchased them from the Museum of the American Indian which later became the National Museum of the American Indian (NMIA) at “an after dark art auction basically in the basement [of the Museum].” When requested to return the belts to the Abenaki and Haudenosaunee, the family refused. After twelve years of Native pressure, the family finally repatriated the belts to the Haudenosaunee. The Haudenosaunee returned the Abenaki belt to the Odanak Abenaki in Canada. The belt is now safe in the Odanak museum. A coordinated group effort proved necessary for the belts to be returned. JT’s discovery of the auction, and his participation in talks with Sotheby’s, contributed to the collective effort in returning these belts to Indigenous peoples. 

As a council member for the Elnu, JT works to improve the lives of his tribe’s members. Colonial governments often ignore Indigenous leadership or interact with it in patronizing manners. Representation of the Elnu by the Elnu rebuffs these actions. The southernmost recognized Abenaki tribe, the Elnu’s traditional territory ranges from present day Gill, Massachusetts, to near Putney, Vermont. Presently, there are around one hundred tribal members. Abenaki tribes practice differing forms of government. The Elnu choose two council members, a man and a woman, and a chief. Councilmembers do not run for election; however, they are selected by the community. JT spends much of his time working with tribe members; he helps them resolve issues. The Elnu are very communal people, and the pandemic has forced them to adapt. Since elders are key community members and great sources of knowledge, protecting elders has been the Elnu’s primary goal during the pandemic.  

The financial impact of Covid has been felt by Abenaki artists. Many Abenaki practice contemporary and traditional artforms. All across the Northeastern Woodlands, shows and gatherings have been canceled. Grants have helped offset some of the economic struggles that Abenaki artists have faced during the pandemic. However, it appears we are moving towards a time that communal events are possible once more. 

Jim Taylor fills many positions in his community. He creates spectacular quillwork, worked in a multinational effort for the repatriation of wampum belts, and serves his community as a councilmember. While much appears vague in this time of Covid-19, one can be assured that JT will continue creating, teaching, and serving his fellow Abenaki.  

Resources

Bruchac, Margaret M. “Broken Chains of Custody: Possessing, Dispossessing, and Repossessing Lost Wampum Belts.” Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society Held at Philadelphia for Promoting Useful Knowledge 162, no. 1 (March 2018): 56–105. https://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=mzh&AN=2018280437&site=e ed-live&scope=site. 

Jim Taylor interviewed by Tate Sutter, March 23, 2021. 

Longtoe Schulmeisters, Lee. “A Brief Introduction to Wampum,” Askawobi Productions, November 19, 2011, video, https://youtu.be/oSrWCkvOFa0. 

Longtoe Schulmeisters, Lina and Hawk Longtoe. “Abenaki Elders and Artists Struggle in
Face of State Reopening” abenakiart.org, Vermont Abenaki Artists Association, June 29, 2020, https://abenakiart.org/blog9/2020/06/29/abenaki-elders-and-artists-struggle-in- face-of-state-reopening/. 

Taylor, Jim, “Meet Native America: Jim Taylor, Elnu Abenaki Tribal Councilman and Elder.” By Dennis Zotigh. National Museum of the American Indian, April 29, 2016
Meet Native America: Jim Taylor, Elnu Abenaki Tribal Councilman and Elder, March 29, 2016. https://blog.nmai.si.edu/main/2016/04/meet-native-america-jim-taylor.html. 

Taylor, Jim. “Quillwork by Swift Fox.” Accessed March 31, 2021. http://quillwork_byswiftfox.tripod.com/index.html. 

Toensing, Gale Courey. “Sotheby’s Wampum Belts ‘a Drop in the Bucket’ of Sacred Items for Sale.” Indian Country Today. Accessed April 1, 2021. https://indiancountrytoday.com/archive/sothebys-wampum-belts-a-drop-in-the-bucket-of- sacred-items-for-sale. 

Tuhiwai Smith, Linda. Decolonizing Methodologies Research and Indigenous Peoples. London and New York: Zed Books, 1999. 

“Wampum.” Haudenosaunee Confederacy. Accessed March 31, 2021. https://www.haudenosauneeconfederacy.com/wampum/. 

“18th Century Living History Album.” Elnu Abenaki Tribe. Accessed March 31, 2021. http://elnuabenakitribe.org/18LivingHistoryPhotos.html.

An Interview with Jim Taylor – Part 2

Image of detail on bag by Jim Taylor.

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. This is Part Two.

Jim Taylor

By Tate Sutter ’24.5
Middlebury College

Native Presence and Performance

1 June 2021

 

Not limiting himself to a single art form, JT also creates wampum. Wampum belts and strands tell the stories and agreements of the Abenaki and other Eastern Woodland tribes, including the Haudenosaunee Confederacy. According to JT, “my community, the Elnu, we always strongly held to the [wampum laws and traditions.] We still to this day commemorate various events where a belt is woven to record that event.” Wampum forms part of Abenaki history and memory.

Long after I am gone and the other elders are gone, these strands will remain. And you know when we have a council meeting. When the community is there, the strands and the belts are brought out and the stories are recounted so… as you grow up you would see the belts, see these strands, and hear what each one represented and how it came to be. Wampum belts and strands “are living and breathing just like human beings.” Bringing the belts out during meetings and ceremonies nourishes the belts through interactions with the community. When the Elnu gained recognition from the State of Vermont, JT was asked to create wampum strands to record the Elnu’s constitution. JT feels that this is “my legacy to my people.”  

 

Wampum belts and strands “are living and breathing just like human beings.” Bringing the belts out during meetings and ceremonies nourishes the belts through interactions with the community. When the Elnu gained recognition from the State of Vermont, JT was asked to create wampum strands to record the Elnu’s constitution. JT feels that this is “my legacy to my people.”

JT makes wampum from whelk and quahog shells. White beads are made from whelk shells, and purple beads are made from quahog shells. Originally, coastal tribes traded wampum with the Abenaki. While not currency, wampum held value and could be used for trade. Since JT lives as a visitor on Narragansett and Wampanoag land, he never sells the wampum he makes there. He does sell his wampum in other places including on Abenaki land.

An interview with Jim taylor – Part 1

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. This is part one.

Jim Taylor

By Tate Sutter ’24.5
Middlebury College

1 June 2021 

Jim Taylor lives life honoring his Abenaki heritage. An accomplished artist, he creates beautiful Eastern Woodlands style quillwork: he made the wampum beads for the Elnu Abenaki tribe’s constitution stands. Participating in the Woodland Confederacy, a living history group, he reminds others that Abenaki people still live in N’Dakinna. A classically trained artist, Taylor designs insignias for organizations around Turtle Island. He represents and serves his fellow Elnu Abenaki as a council member. In her book Decolonizing Methodologies, Linda Tuhiwai Smith outlines twenty-five broad projects Indigenous people can perform to strengthen their cultures. Taylor, who goes by JT as well as Swift Fox, actively lives many of these projects. He supports his culture and people through artwork and representation.

Image of quillwork by Jim Taylor.
Quillwork by Jim Taylor

When Taylor learned quillwork, he had no teacher; very few people remembered the process of stitching quills. According to Taylor, “I had no one to teach me, so [I learned by] looking at various pieces.” He spent time researching quillwork pieces in museums and exhibits to see traditional quill stitches.

From these stitches, he used trial and error to learn quillwork. Soon after learning, Jean Heinbuch published her book A Quillwork Companion which helped further expand his quillwork knowledge. As Tuhiwai Smith discusses, revitalizing strengthens and fosters many facets of Indigenous cultures that are threatened. Over the years of making quillwork, JT has revitalized and become an expert in Northeastern Woodlands quillwork. 

JT uses quillwork on bags, neck knives, sheaths, Abenaki diadems, and many other objects. His designs incorporate numerous stitches and styles including line, plating, and zigzag, which he especially loves. They include significant symbols and colors like the Thunderbird, the double curves, and the four colors of man.  He creates custom pieces. While JT finds inspiration from other quillwork pieces, he never replicates works. Each work possesses its own power; replicas do not hold the individual power of a previous work. His work can be seen in museums and in people’s homes. Painters such as Robert Griffing have used his work in their paintings as models of Eastern Woodlands quillwork. JT believes in pricing his quillwork reasonably, so that regular people, not just wealthy collectors, can enjoy it.

Teaching Through Art Creation: An Interview with Francine Poitras Jones – Part 3

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.

Poitras Jones believes the United States government has not done nearly enough to heal the wounds it has inflicted upon Indigenous peoples. She “[does] not like a lot of what the United States government does,” but she uses her voice, through voting and through her craft, to “spread the word” about the Indigenous way of life. She asserts that if her people are to reach equity, it will be through their own resistance and initiative, not freely given. Whether the government acknowledges it or not, Francine knows that Turtle Island belongs to the people who were here before colonization. “It is still our land, even though it comes under a flag.” Calling it by its name, she affirms, “It is still our land. It is still Turtle Island.”[1][2]

Due to the length of this narrative, it is being introduced in three parts over a period of three weeks. This is the third and final part.

In 2014, Poitras Jones merged her craft with her identity and her ancestry by making her mother regalia to be worn at a powwow. The regalia, which was made with calico, included a belt, purse, head band, and moccasins. With great pleasure and gratification, Francine recalls the event:

“My mother got to wear the regalia I made her to her first and only powwow, and she got to get out into the circle and dance. It was difficult. My brother held her on one side, and I held her on the other. She wept.” This meant a lot to her because “she was able to show the world who she was. She couldn’t do that before.” On the day she “leaves us,” Francine’s mother will wear the regalia Francine made her.[3]

Another piece that is particularly meaningful for Francine is the “18th Century Abenaki Couple.” Francine was asked by Vera Longtoe Sheehan, the director of the Vermont Abenaki Artists Association (VAAA) to portray a precise portrait of what an Abenaki couple would have worn at that time. Francine spent a tremendous amount of time preparing for the piece in order to get it just right. Historical accuracy is important to the VAAA because the experiences and cultures of their people have so often been suppressed. In making this painting, Francine says she fills the need for a “historically accurate picture that can be used [by the VAAA] for education without permission [from anyone]. That is [Abenaki].”[4] After completing the painting, Francine added her signature touch of incorporating natural elements by making a birch twig frame. In July of 2019, the painting was displayed in Senator Bernie Sanders’ office.[5]21 Though Francine did not get paid in money for her artwork, she feels compensated in other ways. She says, “I am grateful that I was the one chosen to do this painting.”

Brightly colored acrylic painting of an Abenaki man and woman standing outdoors, near a river,amd they are wearing historical Abenaki clothing. They are both wearing peaked hoods, white linen shirts are white linen ,and their bottoms are blue and red wool.
Francine Poitras Jones. “18th-Century Abenaki Couple.” 2017. Acrylic on canvas framed with bunched of birch twigs, and hanging feathers.

“Art is a reminder of something,” she continues. “It is more meaningful than just what it physically is.”[6]

            Francine Poitras Jones’ craft is so much more than just what it physically is. More than the paints, the leather, and the birch bark, her art is a message. It is an expression of herself and her people, their past… It is a form of survival and resistance. It is a method of teaching, of sharing, and of inspiring curiosity and passion in others. Like mixing colors on a paint palette, each creative project Francine Poitras Jones undertakes blends together to represent what she is here to do: unite, connect, and share her story to create meaningful change for her people and the world at large.

Bibliography

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

Poitras Jones, Francine. Personal Interview. March 2021.

“Sen. Bernie Sanders Exhibits Abenaki Art in Office.” Abenakiart.org, Vermont Abenaki Artists Association, 27 July 2019.

Tuhiwai Smith, Linda. “Chapter 8: Twenty-Five Indigenous Projects.” Decolonizing Methodologies: Research and Indigenous Peoples Zed, 2012, pp. 143–163.


[1] According to Tuhiwai Smith, calling places, people, and ideas by their Indigenous names is a key project of survival and resistance for Indigenous peoples (157). Francine exemplifies this project by calling this part of the world by its Indigenous name, “Turtle Island”.

[2] Poitras Jones Interview.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] “Sen. Bernie Sanders Exhibits Abenaki Art in Office .” Abenakiart.org, (Vermont Abenaki Artists Association, 27 July 2019).

[6] Poitras Jones Interview.

Teaching Through Art Creation: An Interview with Francine Poitras Jones – Part 2

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 is being introduced in three parts over a period of three weeks. This is the second part.

Though so much of Francine Poitras Jones’s life is centered around building the bridge between these worlds through the sharing of her time, talents, and passions, she acknowledges that there are certain traditions and items that are so important to her and her people that they cannot and should not be commodified. One such item is the eagle feather. “Eagle feathers,” she explains, “are only meant to be given, not bought. The eagles fly higher than any other bird that I know of, and because eagles fly high, the eagle is closer to Creator. By lifting the eagle feather when you are in prayer, you are asking the eagle to take your prayers to Creator.”[1]  In keeping certain traditions within the community, Indigenous communities like Francine’s pass on their living heritage. When a community has had to endure much struggle to even be here today, passing on its sacred practices becomes all the more infused with meaning and power.

Though painful, the struggle Indigenous populations have had (and still have) to overcome is not something to be forgotten. According to Tuhiwai Smith, remembering the harm done to their ancestors can be a very distressing process, but it is one that can lead to both healing and transformation.[2] Poitras Jones’ family came to Massachusetts from Canada during a time of mass genocide and forced sterilization of Indigenous peoples. She says she will “never forget” the story her mother told her of the time when she asked her aunt if she was Indian, and her aunt screamed, “Don’t you ever use the word ‘Indian’ again!”[3] Her mother’s aunt reacted like this not out of allegiance to her French ancestry, but out of fear of being found out; being openly Native American at that time would likely put them in danger of becoming victims of genocide.

When she became an adult, Francine sought out the truth of her past. Though she “knew she had Native American blood,” she knew very little about her ancestry.[4] After seeing her own name, Poitras, in an Indigenous display at the Glenbow Museum in Calgary, Alberta, Francine started on her 20-year journey of uncovering her family’s history. She scoured through library archives and examined article after article, eventually being able to piece together the story of her family. Proving her lineage “meant everything” to her. She could truly be open with who she was. She could be connected with her relatives in a way many of her ancestors could not.[5]


[1] Poitras Jones Interview.

[2] Tuhiwai Smith, 146.

[3] Poitras Jones Interview.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

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.