29 Jul 2021
After writing “Harrisburg Art in the Wild: An Eco-Friendly Fantasy World, ” I want to know more about the influence of nature on art.
My family took me to the Indian Steps Museum in Airville when I was a child, my first exposure to Native American culture. But I haven’t developed this interest until now. So, I start my dive into local and indigenous art.
I find little.
As a last resort, I turn to the power of social media, posting an appeal to all on Facebook. York County Fashion, my friends put me in touch with four Native American artists.
These Native American descendants celebrate their heritage in four different ways.
Kim Olson Richardson (Springettsbury Township) and the Haliwa-Saponi people
Ruby Olson moved to York County in the 1960s from North Carolina. Newly married, she gave birth to three children, including her youngest named Kim (Olson Richardson). Ruby has made sure her babies know and practice their Haliwa-Saponi roots. Since Hollister, North Carolina has remained their tribal home, each April they made a pilgrimage to the annual powwow.
There, Kim and her siblings celebrated their legacy by dancing. The Fancy shawl dance, for example, takes athleticism and aims to mimic the elegant, plunging wings of a butterfly opening from the chrysalis. Kim also participated in the Jingle Dance of the Ojibwe in which 365 cones are sewn into the dress to represent each day of the year.
On an annual trip to the powwow, Kim met Roger richardson also from the Haliwa-Saponi tribe – her future husband.
“Living far away is a little hard to stay involved,” Kim tells me, “but we’ve always been able to do it because it’s important to us.”
Kim doesn’t dance anymore. She’s a saleswoman.
Native Americans are usually depicted with headdresses. However, “Our people did not wear war caps,” Kim says. “So I launched a line of t-shirts highlighting the natives of the East Woods called Moc70. ”
Since they couldn’t organize a powwow, COVID greatly affected the tribe’s ability to celebrate their culture. But this summer will be different. Pow-wows are scheduled, including THIS LIST upcoming events in PA.
Raine Dawn (Spring Grove) of the Anishinaabe people
Raine Dawn Valentine, of The Anishinaabe people are part of the Chippewa tribe of Turtle Mountain, still located in North Dakota. Her mother attended boarding school from the age of six until she graduated at the age of 16.
“She was not allowed to know or learn our native traditions,” Raine tells me. “She lived in the days when natives were brainwashed into American culture.” (Jim McClure and I will explore assimilation further in an upcoming Witness York article.)
It wasn’t until adulthood that Raine began to learn and connect more deeply with his heritage. She returns to her family in North Dakota to learn all she can. “My culture influences my everyday life and my teaching, ”says Raine. “I am always connected to our Seven Teachings and share traditions with others.”
For Raine, art and spirituality are deeply united. “Art also connects us more deeply with nature, which brings us back to our center and plunges us into a meditative state that opens us to hearing this higher divine self,” she says.
Raine has been teaching art for 13 years at Ridgely College in Baltimore County and an assistant at Notre Dame University in Maryland where she teaches graduate students the methods of teaching art in the high school classroom. There, she infuses her Native American customs into her classes.
“Being a teacher means that I can help our young people see and know each other better,” says Raine. “Art created our world, and our students need to know that they have the power to create the world as they see it from their own imaginations. ”
Jess McPherson (Township of Spring Garden); A Susquehanna Indian of Shawnee origin
Like Raine Dawn, Jess mcpherson also creates art. However, she is found most engaged in making pearl and thread jewelry.
An exhibition titled “Homesick” shows the connection between Jess, her cultures (she is also German from Pennsylvania) and the land. Jess took some dried herbs, along with her art partner Donna Sylvester, turned them over and tied them together. As they hung the piece in the air, the herbs “started to bond with the living grass beneath our feet,” Jess tells me. “Outside of that connection… We started to see them as outbreaks or childbirths. To me, they are also a bit like empty cocoons.
As the artists came together and lived with their installation, they noticed subtle movements. “In a few pieces, their ropes came down and gently caressed the ground, seeking the ground as they did when they connected with the living grasses beneath our feet that day.”
Their exhibit was on display along the river at LOwercase Gallery in Wrightsville, Pa., where community members brought their own pieces to incorporate into their artwork, either by weaving them or leaving them at the base as offerings.
Here are some of his participations and ways to learn more about local initiatives:
Jack Richardson (Township of Manchester) and the Haliwa-Saponi people
Jack and Kim are parents. They are both from the Haliwa-Saponi people of North Carolina. When their children were young, together with others, they created a cultural group. They wanted to involve their kids in the dances, including the powwow they started at Indian Steps.
But instead of t-shirts, Jack makes drums. “You find something you like, and it’s part of nature, it’s good to get involved like that,” he says.
First it reaches the leather – elk, cow, deer or buffalo. Last year he tanned his own buckskin, but he won’t do it again. “It’s a bit of work, so I don’t think I want to do it anymore.”
Then he builds the drum cylinder using western cedar. “It’s light,” he says, which makes it easier for drummers to carry. A few coats of polyurethane ensure that water will not damage the wood.
Using leather bands, Jack pulls the skin tightly over the cedar cylinder, but not too tightly. If there isn’t enough flex in the face of the drum, that beautiful, deep sound won’t reverberate. Finally, he assembles the drummer so that the musician has his tool.
Each drum takes four to five hours to build. You can buy one at Native American Day September 11 and 12 at the Indian Steps Museum (Airville).
Three tribes, four artists
Kim Olson Richardson of Springettsbury Township makes t-shirts. Raine Dawn from Spring Grove painted. Jess McPherson from Spring Garden Township sews beads. Jack Richardson of Manchester Township manufactures drums.
Three from different tribes, and they all express themselves in different art forms.
A misconception is that “Native American culture” is a monolithic experience. It’s not. Hundreds of Indian nations flourished in the United States before colonization.
After Europeans settled in America, many customs were lost. Yet many American Indians and their descendants keep the traditions alive. And just like the plethora of practices of their ancestors, contemporary artists fit into a wide range of indigenous cultures.
Kim, Raine Dawn, Jess and Jack all explore their identity, history and culture through art. “The importance of each person’s role in the arts,” writes Jess, “is easily demonstrable and an incredible tool for teaching people that they are important, that their thoughts and experiences matter. “