- By Tamara Ikenberg
This weekend and next week, Indian Country is presenting a beautiful blend of music and art, photography, and sweet surprises.
The cultural mix includes a Tlingit creation story told through glass and sound, Indigenized candy hearts to share with your sweetheart, an interlude with an expert in opera and Oneida pottery, and majestic and medicinal images of a strong and striking Ojibwe superstar.
Native News Online’s event guide is coming up to get this arty party started. Check it out for a glimpse into all the good stuff.
Virtual Artist Discussion with Jennifer Stevens
WHEN: Thursday, Jan. 27, 4 p.m.
WHERE: Zoom. Register here.
How does one craft a career equal parts Puccini and Oneida pottery?
You can find out how a passion for European arias and an ancient Indigenous artform can co-exist within one dynamic woman when Oneida-Oglala Lakota potter and opera recitalist Jennifer Stevens opens up about her fascinating life and work during a virtual artist discussion hosted by the Mitchell Museum of the American Indian.
Stevens is keenly aware of the seeming opposition between her two talents.
“They are two extremely different worlds. I have the authentic Native American historical side of me, and then I have this other side of me, where I was studying how to sing in Italian, French, and German,” Stevens told Native News Online.
Stevens’ online discussion is the beginning of a new commitment between herself and the Mitchell. Stevens will be teaching the museum’s Saturday cultural workshops beginning later this year.
As a renowned teacher and researcher of ancient Oneida pottery, Stevens is reviving a long lost Oneida art. Stevens said the Oneida ceased making their utilitarian pots, which were initially made of stone and progressed to clay, in the late 1600s. During that time, the Oneida started trading with European settlers and transitioned to the metal trade pots they introduced.
“A lot of people didn’t know that tribes of the east coast even made pottery,” Stevens said. “The pots were used for cooking, storing food, and also for ceremonies. They were a major part of our life. Our pottery was basically our life sustenance.”
“I research designs, and I recreate them and produce these pots as authentically as possible. It's about education and cultural preservation, which is really essential,” said Stevens, who also makes contemporary art. “I feel like my ancestors are with me when I'm creating them. It's a very beautiful experience. When I teach my students, I remind them that these are sacred items. We're working with our mother earth, we're working with fire. These are all sacred elements to Native American people. It's in our culture.”
As for her operatic side, Stevens performs arias by composers including Puccini and Mozart, and also integrates Indigenous culture into the classical mix.
In addition to performing modern operatic works in Native American languages by other composers, she writes and performs original music and lyrics, and has those lyrics translated into the Oneida and Lakota languages. She’s performed some of these pieces with the Green Bay Symphony Orchestra.
“Historically, there are very few Native American opera singers, and hardly any of them write their own music, much less write opera,” Stevens said. “It's not just me pulling myself out of the roots of my Native American culture and throwing myself into Europe and singing opera. I’m fusing the Native American culture with the European culture through music. It's a lot of fun. I want to share with other people that Native Americans are able to express ourselves as authentically as we can through our art and music, even if it is opera.”
Woodland Sky Native American Dance Company at Crazy Horse Memorial\Michelle Reed in Cowboys & Indians Magazine
Saturday, Jan. 29, 4 p.m. WHEN:
In the aptly titled photo “Powerful Connections,” Ojibwe culture-bearer Michelle Reed organically blends in visually and spiritually with a hot pink mural of Lakota woman warrior Redbird.
Taken last year in Eagle Butte, South Dakota, by Chad Coppess, the photo editor of South Dakota Magazine, the image won the grand prize in Cowboys & Indians Magazine’s 2022 Visions of the West photography competition.
For Reed, whose jubilant jingle dress of pink happened to match the mural perfectly, it’s the sweetgrass in her hands that completes the picture of strength and healing.
“Holding that sweet grass up–that medicine–that was a really important part of the photo,” Reed, a dancer, educator, and artist, who travels the country sharing her knowledge and skills, told Native News Online. “And the jingle dress dance is a medicine dance, so, the feeling of that photo was really powerful. Chad is an amazing photographer.”
Adding to Reed and Coppess’ visual victory, another photo of Reed atop a rock in Stockade Lake in the Black Hills won the competition’s Native American category. Both images are featured in the current issue.
This Saturday, visitors to Crazy Horse Memorial in Custer, South Dakota, can see Reed’s vibrant cultural work in action when the troupe she founded, the Woodland Sky Native American Dance Company, takes the Welcome Center Theater stage.
The one-night-only show will showcase Ojibwe, Lakota, Menominee, Potawatomi, Oneida, and Apache dancers. The group represents men’s and women’s Native American styles including traditional, fancy, jingle, grass, woodland and hoop, and it will be Woodland Sky’s first time doing their storytelling through dance at the Memorial.
“It's really amazing that the Crazy Horse Memorial gets performers from all over the world. People come to South Dakota to experience the beauty of the land there, the Black Hills,” Reed said. “It’s different from any other place where I've worked. We're going to take an extra day to check out their museum and see what that's all about.”
Preston Singletary: Raven and the Box of Daylight
WHEN: Jan. 28 through Jan. 29. 2023
In the Tlingit legend Raven and the Box of Daylight, the winged trickster of southeast Alaska Native lore leads a transformation from light to darkness by gifting the world with the sun, stars, and moon.
Raven’s cosmic contributions are at the heart of Preston Singletary: Raven and the Box of Daylight, a new multi-sensory glass experience at the National Museum of the American Indian.
The show spins the creation story into a spectacle for the eyes and ears, setting the dazzling glass pieces of internationally acclaimed Tlingit artist Singletary against an immersive, layered backdrop of storytelling, sounds of the Pacific Northwest Coast, original music and projected images.
Click here to hear Singletary discuss the exhibit and his career in a conversation hosted by the National Museum of the American Indian.
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