Indigenous art show a stunner

Reviewer: Janet Martineau

Venue: Marshall Fredericks Sculpture Museum

Simply put, it serves up a strong sense of spirituality.
And what could be more rewarding on this Indigenous Peoples’ Day in Saginaw than that.
Running through Jan. 6, the Marshall M. Fredericks Sculpture Museum is hosting an oddly named exhibition titled “Vitality and Continuity,” featuring art created by Anishinaabe, Inuit and Pueblo WOMEN.
Located on the campus of Saginaw Valley State University, the museum hosted an enhanced reception of the exhibition today, Indigenous Day, which included the serving of representations of native foods like corn bread, salmon with rice, and fry bread.
Only 25 pieces are in the show, but please look up the many definitions of spirituality and then take a trip there and see if you experience it.
Thought it might just be me with what little Mississauga/Mohawk DNA is within me, but chance conversations with three other visitors who didn’t revealed they were feeling the same thing.
Maybe it is because many of the pieces are of the earth – clay, dyed porcupine quills, braided sweetgrass, birch bark, ash bark, hand-made paper.
Maybe it’s because of their frequent link to nature – Lake Superior, owls, the sun, bears, horned larks, turtles, frogs, pike, badger and snakes; be it literal or abstracted like the largest piece, an acrylic on canvas titled “Cycles.”
Or maybe it is things like sheets hanging out on a line to dry in this woman-centric exhibit, a rare thing in the museum world.
A couple of huge names are represented: Ojibwe painter (and also author) Lois Beardsley and Pueblo potter Maria Martinez.
Maybe less known in the United States is Kenojuak Ashevak, an Inuit. Her work in the show is titled “Summer Owl” and is stone cut on paper.
In 1970 a work of hers became the first Inuit woman featured on a stamp in Canada and her work is also on the Canadian $10 bill.
Just for fun, one piece of pottery is not within a case and has a big sign reading PLEASE TOUCH.
Thankfully the show does not avoid the elephant in the room: church-run boarding schools which “kidnapped” indigenous children and stripped them of their culture and beliefs.
A 1935 birch bark/quill book cover depicting Jesus was likely created by an Ottawa child.
We cannot praise enough the signage and graphics and the stories they tell. QR codes invite further investigation, as well as phone numbers to dial for interviews or to hear a poem.
Why can’t all museums be this thorough and rich in their accompanying signage?
Just a quick note: All of the pieces are in the permanent collections of four museums in Michigan, the heavy hitter being the Detroit Institute of Arts, in a wonderful collaboration between five museums that is touring the state.
In addition to the DIA and Fredericks, the other participating museums are the Bonifas Arts Center in Escanaba, Dennos Museum Center in Traverse City, and Midland Center for the Arts.
The Fredericks Sculpture Museum started out the chilly day on the north end of Ojibwe island, where it unveiled a colorful 8-foot-tall land acknowledgment marker it has donated to the city — a simple thing really acknowledging something long overdue.
Reads its inscription:
“We acknowledge that we are in the homeland of the Anishinaabe People, the Indigenous People of this land, which include the Odawa, Ojibwa, and Pottawatomi. We specifically acknowledge the Anishinaabe’s Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe, whose land the City of Saginaw resides on.
“We thank them for their hospitality as the Aboriginal People of this land, and for our continuing use of the natural resources of their Ancestral Homelands.”

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