Celebrating Ongwehowe Artists

Iroquois Art, Power, and History is a richly illustrated book written by art historian and anthropology professor Neal B. Keating. He explores Haudenosaunee (Six Nations Iroquois) visual expression through more than five thousand years, from its emergence in North America into the early twenty-first century.

The 348-page volume draws on extensive archival research and fieldwork with Haudenosaunee artists and communities allowing the voices of the artists to speak to the reader. Organized in chronological order, Keating presents art from the colonial and neo-colonial periods including tree paintings, tattooing and body painting, painted posts in villages, drawings on boards in residences, decorations on clubs, and watercolour on paper as examples.

Of particular interest are the works of David Cusick, Tuscarora historian and artist; Dennis Cusick, George Wilson, Thomas Jacobs, Zacharie Vincent Telari-o-lin, Sandford Plummer, and Ernest Smith. The final section discusses the decolonizing period from 1950 to the present.

Three chapters investigate the termination phase (1950 to 1970); the Wounded Knee phase (1970 to 1990); and the Oka phase (1990 to present). Works from these phases include oil on canvas, mixed media, lithographs, acrylics, photographs, digital prints, lino prints, colour pencil drawings, and video installations.

Artists represented include Louis Hall, George Longfish, Robert Markle, James Beaver, Ivan Bomberry, Rick Hill, G. Peter Jemison, John Fadden, Oren Lyons, R. G. Miller, Alan Michelson, Shelley Niro, Melanie Printup-Hope, Raymond Skye, Greg Staats, Sue Ellen Herne, and Katsitsionni Fox. The book includes seventy-five colour plates, black and white reproductions, an index, a bibliography, and appendices on documentary research, and a list of painters and photographers. Highly recommended.

Haudenoshone: Thanksgiving Arts and Crafts is a 2012 Ningwakwe Learning Press publication designed specifically for Ontario Native adult literacy learners and practitioners. This accessible 59-page book offers senior elementary and high school students an accurate account of the Haudenosaunee Thanksgiving Address in English. It provides specific examples of art pieces known as cornhusk mats, moccasins, and ash splint basketry to highlight the importance of acknowledging various aspects of creation.

The Thanksgiving Address begins the book in a narrative fashion with appropriate colour photographs of each element such as corn, trees, grasses, and water. The remaining chapters provide step-by-step instruction for creating fine art pieces such as moccasins, cornhusk mats, cradleboard, and ash splint baskets inspired by creation.

The corn husk dolls featured in this book were made by internationally recognized artist Elizabeth Doxtator. These pieces are part of her larger work, “The Peacemaker’s Journey.” Her moving poem, “The Good Mind,” captures the essence of her amazing work.

Throughout the book, author Jameson C. Brant has selected colour illustrations created by Ernest Smith from the collection of the Rochester Museum. This is an excellent resource explaining Haudenosaunee worldview, as well as a how-to guide for several art projects. Highly recommended.

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