Iroquois Raised Beadwork on display at Neville Museum

Story Editing by Paul DeMain
Green Bay, Wisconsin ((ICC)

Artist, Karen Ann Hoffman, a member of the Oneida Nation of Wisconsin is exhibiting her contemporary Iroquois Raised Beadwork at the Neville Museum, 210 Museum Place, Green Bay, Wisconsin.  

The exhibit, “Sisters in Spirit” opened September 26, 2015 and will close February 14, 2016. “Sisters in Spirit” uses contemporary artwork with ancient themes to explore the complex relationship between Wisconsin’s Native and immigrant populations. It pairs 38 pieces of Hoffman’s artwork with 20 original watercolors by non-native artist, Geri Schrab.  Schrab is a painter whose work is inspired by Wisconsin’s ancient rock art sites.

“I am excited to bring Iroquois Raised Beadwork into a respected museum like the Neville”, says Hoffman. “Wisconsin’s Contemporary Native Art is wide ranging, vibrant and exciting. It is also largely unknown to much of Wisconsin’s Fine Art audience and is underrepresented in mainstream Art Galleries and Museums. It is my goal to educate Fine Art audiences regarding the breadth and vibrancy of Contemporary Native American art and expand the conversation about Native American Contemporary Art.”

As a member of the Oneida Nation of Wisconsin, Hoffman is part of the larger Iroquois Confederacy also known as the Six-Nations or the Haudenosaunee. Hoffman’s beadwork, made of velvet, calico and leather, is embellished with tiny glass beads, and is deeply rooted in traditional Haudenosaunee culture. Some pieces recall ancient legends, some illustrate the historical events and some explore the future of the Six-Nations.   She also uses text and video in the gallery to explain the meaning of her artwork.

In one installation, Hoffman has beaded a series of  four large ‘Council Mats’. “When the time comes for making important decisions, traditionally, our Clan Mothers send the Chieves to set down around the council mats. They sit, knowing they will stay, until a consensus is reached … a decision in the best interests of all; from our ancestors through the faces of those we’ve yet to see.”

Each of these mats is decorated with a traditional seasonal story.

The Fall story of the Great Bear Hunt is written with clear crystal seed beads on an 40” oval mat made of black velvet. It is accompanied by a video where Hoffman uses the mat to tell the story of the Great Bear Hunt and the cultural lessons it contains.

In addition to individual pieces, “Sisters in Spirit” also showcases a collaborative Canoe Installation. This feature incorporates Hoffman’s beadwork, Schrab’s watercolors with a ceramic piece by Michael Hoffman, a descendant of the Menominee and Ottawa Nations, and a full size, historic Menominee birchbark canoe from the Neville Museum’s collection. Michael Hoffman’s artwork depicts the family of his ancestor, Charles Michel de Langlande (1729-1800),  enroute to Mackinac Island in a Montreal canoe. At the time of that journey, the de Langlade home was located on the banks of the Fox River just across from a Menominee village which is the current site of the Neville Museum.

Hoffman is a beadwork student of Samuel Thomas and the late Lorna Hill.

“I am very grateful to Sam and his mom, Lorna, for taking me under their wings and starting me on my beadwork journey.”

Hoffman’s beadwork is now in the permanent collections of the Smithsonian Institution’s Museum of the American Indian,  the Wisconsin Historical Society Museum, the New York State Museum in Albany and the Indianapolis Children’s Museum. In addition to the Neville Museum, her work is currently on exhibit at the Memorial Hall Museum in Deerfield, MA and will be shown at the Castellani Art Museum in Niagara Falls, NY in February 2016.

Michael Hoffman is cultural consultant and advisor to the Menominee Clans Story, a series of carvings by the late Menominee artist, James Freschette, Jr, currently housed at the Museum of Natural History at the University of Wisconsin in Stevens Point.

Schrab has participated in the Artist in Residence program at Pictured Rocks National Park. She is also co-author of an upcoming book, “Hidden Thunder: Rock Art of the Upper Midwest” written with Robert Bozhardt and being published by the Wisconsin Historical Society Press.

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