Unity of Nations - A New Way to Looking at Native American Art

Donna Fischer

donna fischer | the artist next door | sept 2015

Christine Klimmek was helping to set up a watercolor exhibit at the Art Garage last year when she started inquiring about the possibility of holding a show for Native American artists. Klimmek, program coordinator for the Oneida Nation Arts Program, felt that the contemporary artists she knew were not getting their work out to the public effectively. From that grew the plans for the juried exhibit, Unity of Nations: Contemporary Interpretations of Native American Arts, running September 3 through 29 at the Art Garage in Green Bay.

Klimmek was very happy with the response to the call for submissions to this inaugural exhibit. There are 24 artists in the exhibit. Look for remarkable works of abstract art as well as some more familiar styles. “It's mostly contemporary works but there are some traditional works in there also," explains Klimmek. Along with traditional styles of beaded articles, she says there will be purses and paintings. “Most of the paintings have Native imagery on them. Most of the painters went to school at the American Indian Art Institute. We have some baskets but they're non—traditional baskets, made with contemporary reed that you buy at the store."

'Winter over the Wolf' by Ren KatchenagoTwo guest artists in this show include Samuel Thomas and Mark Fischer. “The reason I chose Samuel Thomas (Cayuga) is because he is a master artist and teacher of traditional Iroquois raised beading. He is the first teacher I hired to teach raised beading in 1998. He continues to create traditional raised beaded works but also has created beaded sculptures, and contemporary beaded items. He is someone who celebrates and embraces his Cayuga/Iroquois ancestry while venturing into new adaptations of a traditional art form.

“I chose Mark Fischer because he uses a contemporary art form, medal sculpture, to express his Oneida heritage. Many of his sculptures are based on his interpretation of Oneida stories and history," says Klimmek.

The Oneida Nation Arts Program began in 1993 and has been recognized as a one-of-a-kind program in the United States. “We didn't realize that!" Klimmek adds with a smile. “We've lasted. We're funded by the (Onieda) Tribe. We're part of the governmental services division, so every year we get our primary funding from the Tribe and I think that helps a lot. One thing about the Tribe, when they do budget cuts they don't eliminate the arts. I'm really proud of that; they really support the arts."

There is room for families to grow closer through art with the ONAP. “We do programming for children, and I do programs for teens and adults. The programs that are being offered at the Art Garage are intergenerational. Children and adults are making projects together. I've always done that. Sometimes the child might be eight and sometimes the child is forty-eight."

'Dreaming' beaded crown and face by Karen Ann HoffmanKlimmek created the Unity of Nations show with the intention of dispelling the notion that all Native Americans are alike in their lifestyles. “People think that all Indians are of one tribe. We're not. We have our own government, our own language, our own religion, our own culture, our own history. That's why I called it Unity of Nations. We don't all think the same way and our art reflects that. Some people are very abstract, and some are very traditional."

When it comes to art, Klimmek says it is about as vital as anything in her life. “It's important to me because I'm an artist. I need a creative outlet as much as I need air to breathe. If I don't have some creative thing going on in my life I'm frustrated. So that's why I do it. I think it has very healing properties; it's a way of expressing yourself."

The Unity of Nations exhibit runs from September 3 through 29 at the Art Garage in Green Bay. Learn more at TheArtGarage.org or at OneidaNationArts.org.

Donna Fischer is an avid fan of music, film and art. When she's not writing on these subjects you'll find her gardening or snowshoeing around Green Bay.

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