“It is beautiful, come and see.”
That is the English translation of Wunnegin ke keen nee ash, the Algonquin name given to the first ever Native American art exhibit now on display in the atrium of the Rhode Island Department of Administration.
This Thursday, a reception and awards ceremony will be held for the artists in the atrium of One Capital Hill, where the art is currently on display.
Deborah Spears Moorehead, a Seaconke Wampanoag woman originally from Warwick, curated the exhibit with help from the Rhode Island State Council on the Art’s Community Arts Program.
“All cultures should be allowed to show in public forums,” said Moorehead. “Doing it makes us realize we all have so much in common.”
Many of the pieces in the exhibit promote equality. Sculptures and woven shawls showcase the colors red, yellow, white and black in equal proportions, a statement on racial equality.
The pieces in the gallery range from classic oil paintings, to dream catchers, quivers and tree bark bags.
In April, Moorehead reached out to roughly 170 Eastern Woodland Native American artists, and heard back from 20 who wanted to display their work at the show. The gallery was installed earlier this month and boasts 75 pieces.
Moorehead’s own art takes up an entire wall of the atrium.
Her style is contemporary, and Moorehead typically paints her Native American friends, although she has been commissioned to paint landscapes and historical scenes.
Most of Moorehead’s pieces are on canvas, but some are done on large pieces of wood.
“I paint on wood because the wood tells me what picture I should paint,” she said while walking past her wall of art last week. She pointed to a painting of a wolf on a large piece of bark.
“I saw the wolf in the wood,” she said.
Julia Marden, a Wampanoag woman who now resides in Connecticut, contributed a few hand-woven pieces to the gallery.
Marden’s pieces include a quiver and a flat bag, both produced using a technique called “twining.”
The ancient art form dates back to the 14th century, and is extremely time-consuming. Marden learned the technique while working at Plymouth Plantation in Massachusetts.
Traditionally, some type of plant fiber is handspun (without the aid of a wheel or drop spindle) and then woven into a bag or basket. Marden used pre-spun cotton fiber for her pieces, which took between three and four months to make.
“That’s based on an eight-hour working day,” she said.
Marden has been weaving for 20 years, and has made 63 pieces in total. Her daughter also weaves, and learned the craft at the age of 6.
“It’s a really deep connection to my ancestors,” said Marden. “It’s really a gift that I’m able to do what I can do.”
Dale Hazard, a Rhode Islander from the Narragansett tribe, will be bringing his masterpiece to the gallery opening on Thursday. His is a piece of art that cannot be hung on a wall or encapsulated in a glass case: it’s a Harley Davidson motorcycle.
Hazard has beaded his motorcycle in the traditional Native American style, with designs and images that evoke his Narragansett heritage.
Hazard, an avid motorcyclist who has owned his Harley for seven years, said he could envision the beading on his bike the day he got it.
“I’m proud of my heritage,” he said. “I’ve beaded for years, but not quite this much.”
Hazard estimates he’s spent 1,000 hours beading his bike, and that it now contains about 1 million beads.
“I’m not trying to boast, but it blew me away,” he said of the final product. “It looked beautiful. I got more compliments from people.”
Hazard is excited to bring his bike to Thursday’s opening, which will be the first time he’s been asked to display his bike as a piece of artwork.
In addition to Hazard’s bike, Thursday’s reception will include Native American performances and artist meet-and-greets.
The art is currently on display at the Rhode Island Department of Administration’s atrium gallery at One Capital Hill, and will be available for viewing through June 29 on weekdays 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. The reception, this Thursday, June 21, will run from 5 to 9 p.m. and is free and open to the public.