Vitality and Continuity: Art in the Experiences of Anishinaabe, Inuit, and Pueblo Women

Fascinating Exhibition of Contemporary Native American Artworks Runs at Marshall Fredericks Sculpture Museum Through January 6th

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    icon Oct 12, 2023
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When we think of Native American artwork oftentimes we associate it with ceremonial purposes or with archeological objects refurbished for historical purposes, but a fascinating new exhibition currently on display at The Marshall Fredericks Sculpture Museum through January 6th is designed to realign the prism through which we view Native American artworks.

Titled Vitality & Continuity: Art in the Experiences of Anishinaabe, Inuit, and Pueblo Women, this new exhibition celebrates some of the critical roles the women from these various tribes fulfill in their families, their communities, the art world, and beyond. 

Spanning 125 years from 1895-2021, with the primary focus on contemporary artworks created from the 1960s onward, along with a blend of more historical pieces, these artworks illustrate the continuity as opposed to the differences of Anishinaabe, Inuit, and Pueblo women’s art and experience through shared themes like mothering, making, art world success, spirituality, and continuity in a visual culture that spans generations.

Showcasing twenty-five artworks that provide a glimpse into the vital roles these women’s experiences fulfilled, and continue to fulfill in their families, communities, the contemporary art world, and beyond, the spotlight artists includeKenojuak Ashevak (Inuit), Kelly Church (Gun Lake Band of Pottawatomi/Grand Traverse Ottawa/Chippewa descent), Maria Martinez (San Ildefonso), and many more.

According to Marshall Fredericks’ Sculpture Museum Director, Megan McAdow, in selecting objects the focus was on prioritizing those pieces known to be made for sale on the art market and/or without sacred significance.

Vitality & Community’ is a collaboration among several different museums and art centers and it was initiated through a partnership between the Detroit Institute of Arts and Art Bridges, which is a foundation linked to Crystal Bridges Museum in Arkansas, which is the Walmart Family,” explains McAdow. “Their goal is to advance American art by helping smaller organizations present statewide exhibitions, so we are able to feature this one with our partner organizations that include the Detroit Institute of Arts, Bonifas Arts Center which is located in the Upper Peninsula, the Dennos Museum Center up in Traverse City, plus  Midland Center for the Arts, had some objects in their collection that are included in this exhibition.

“I think this exhibition will definitely expand peoples’ view in terms of how they perceive Indian-American artworks,” she continues, “and to really help people understand these are not extinct cultures, but these people are continually advancing their culture through works people might not realize or in ways they have no idea about.”

“When people traditionally look at a collection of Native American objects in a museum they think of things that had a cultural significance in ceremonial purposes,” reflects Megan, “and this exhibition is actually an art exhibition of pieces created to be artworks. Many of them have either historic techniques or motifs employed, but they are contemporary works mostly from the 1960s forward. These are not items that would be up to debate for repatriation and instead are paintings and sculptures that were intended to be displayed and are created from all these different tribes an curated from different museums throughout the state of Michigan, so in a sense it’s the cream of the crop.”

When asked if any particular artists or pieces stand out for her, McAdow says she is excited artist Kelly Church is included. She is from the Anishinaabe culture and is coming to the museum to talk on November 28th. From 6:00 until 8:00 PM the public can join us for a behind the scenes discussion with her and the Assistant Curate of Native American art at the Detroit Institute of Arts.”

Marshall Fredericks is doing a considerable amount of ancillary programming around this exhibition throughout the months of October and November, and some of the highlights include an Indigenous People’s Day Celebration that took place on Ojibway Island October 9th for the unveiling of a new Chippewa Indian Landing marker and will continue with the following events:

On Saturday, October 14th will be a Saginaw Art Jamboree, which will kick off Hispanic Heritage Month and take place at the museum from noon - 5 PM.  People can shop from over 30 local art vendors, tour the museum, and enjoy various family friendly activities, including a sugar skull decorating activity to celebrate Dia de los Muertos in time for Halloween.

“We are very excited about Hispanic Heritage Month, enthuses Megan, “because we are participating in the Great Lakes Bay READ book club program which will run throughout the month of November. This is a statewide endeavor based around a Michigan themed book designed to facilitate statewide reading and bridge communities around a common conversation.”

“The book we will be reading is Angeline Baulley’s Fire Keeper’s Daughter, which revolves around a powerful female lead and a community full of drama, intrigue, and secrets.  She is a Native American author from Michigan and will be visiting us also in April. We’ll also be doing a lot of things with youth through this program and are partnering with all three library systems in the Great Lakes Bay Region on this campaign.”

Friday, October 20th from 4-6 PM will feature Art at the MAC at the Mexican American Cultural Center, located at 1537 S. Washington in Saginaw Marshall Fredericks Museum Education Curator Andrea Ondish and Alberto Jimenz at the MAC will offer a free youth art program for ages 18 and under, with participants making and decorating sugar skulls to celebrate Dia de los Mouertos! 

“Then on Wednesday, November 1st, we will be kicking off Native American Heritage Month with a reception here at the Museum from 4;30 - 6:00 PM and then at 6:00 will screen this fascinating documentary titled Warrior Lawyers: Defenders of Sacred Justice  in the Rhea Miller Recital Hall,” continues Megan. “This is a film concerning  tribal justice and Michigan Indian Tribes and their legal and justice system and how it differs from the U.S. justice system.”

Finally on Saturday, November 11th, the Museum will be staging a Native American Arts & Justice Circle from 1-4 PM.  The Native Justice Coalition will be facilitating Healing Stories and a Justice Circle, which all are welcome to attend. Free hands-on activity developed by the Ziibiwing Center of Anishinaabe Culture & Lifeways will be included for each participant.

Additional events and programming will be announced as the exhibition progresses through the months of November and December.

For more information about this astounding and expansive exhibition of Native American artworks, please visit or phone 989-964-7125. The Marshall M. Fredericks Sculpture Museum is located at Saginaw Valley State University, 7400 Bay Rd in Saginaw and hours are Monday through Saturday 11 am - 5 PM. Admission is FREE.

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