Native Village
Youth and Education news
Volume 4   April  2011

Native Americans use art to 'tell our stories'
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Minnesota: Most artists use brushes, canvas, pottery wheels, or a set of talented hands. 

Wanesia Misquadace, however, relies largely on her teeth.

anesia is among a handful of Native American artists who practice birch-bark biting. She learned the tradition while growing up in the Fond du Lac Ojibwa tribe.

To make a birch-bark piece, Misquadace begins with a thin layer of folded bark. With her eyeteeth, she creates imprints in the bark, being sure not to pierce the wood. When the bark is unfolded, images of flowers, turtles and dragonflies appear.

"Birch bark is the strength of our people," Misquadace said. "It's used in our baskets and canoes and (the bitings) as a means to tell our stories."

Birch bitings of:

A turtle told a tale of creation.

A lady-slipper orchid told of a young girl's sacrifice to help heal her sick tribe.

Water lilies helped elders tell the story of the Star Maiden, a star who loved the Ojibwa people so much that she became a flower to be close to the tribe.

Misquadace also uses elements of birch-bark work in jewelry making, a skill learned from her Navajo husband, Fritz Casuse.  This has led to her latest work, The Essence of the Lake Collection. Essence is a series of silver jewelry and ornate pieces decorated with birch bark and semiprecious and precious stones.

"I'm contemporizing the traditional use of birch bark by using silver and wood," she said. "It's very organic. I'm making it my own."

Wanesia was among 700 American Indian artists chosen to showcase their work at the 53rd Heard Museum Guild Indian Fair and Market last month.  From Florida  to Alaska, nearly every North American tribe was represented. The weekend festival featured art demonstrations, dance performances, author signings and cultural food vendors.

It's that diversity, both in artwork and cultures, that helps educate visitors.

"People tend to see Native Americans as living in the past,"  said Kate Crowley from the Heard Museum. "When they visit the market, they get to witness both innovation and tradition up close."

2011 Heard Museum Juried Competition Award Winners:

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