Tag 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. 

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.