Abenaki: We are still here

"18th Century Abenaki Couple #2"
Courtesy photo
“18th Century Abenaki Couple #2,” detail, acrylic on canvas, by Francine Poitras Jones of the Nulhegan Abenaki tribe.

Sen. Bernie Sanders’ office in Washington, D.C., currently hosts an exhibit that speaks to the power of art to affirm, uphold and communicate. The exhibit titled “Askwa n’daoldibna iodali — We are Still Here” features work by well-known artists from three out of the four Vermont recognized tribes.

“It is important that Abenaki artistry is displayed in the Capitol of the United States of America,” said Chief Don Stevens of the Nulhegan Abenaki tribe. “We are part of the original fabric that makes up this country. We continue our governmental relationships with the U.S. Congress delegations as did our ancestors.”

The idea for the exhibit began last January when Julia Santos from Sen. Sanders office reached out to the Vermont Abenaki Artists Association requesting that Abenaki artwork be displayed in the senator’s office as part of an on-going exhibit dedicated to Vermont artists.

“As the discussion continued, it became clear that the Abenaki people should exhibit a small collection of both traditional and contemporary artists so the art could tell the story of Abenaki continuity of culture in our homeland,” explained Vera Longtoe Sheehan, director of the Vermont Abenaki Artists Association. “It was also important for the Abenaki language to be incorporated into the exhibit title.”

Highlights of the exhibit include works by Amy Hook-Therrien of the Koasek Abenaki tribe, Lori Lambert of the Nulhegan Abenaki tribe and Linda Longtoe Sheehan of the Elnu Abenaki tribe, among others.

Nature and landscape photographer, Diane Stevens of the Nulhegan Abenaki tribe, also exhibits in D.C. Her photograph “Nature’s Palette” won best in color at Art’s Alive open photography exhibit in 2017. The striking image captures a quintessential moment of foliage taken by the photographer while kayaking one of the many ponds in Vermont. A member of the Vermont Abenaki Artists Association, Stevens resides in Shelburne along with her husband, Chief Don Stevens.

Another artist in the exhibit includes Francine Poitras Jones of the Nulhegan Abenaki tribe. Poitras Jones’ acrylic on canvas is titled “18th Century Abenaki Couple” and thoughtfully framed with birch twigs to “give the painting true individuality, as well as to give it the earthy feel I like to portray in my paintings,” Jones said.

The exhibit is on display in Sanders’ office through November 2019. The Vermont Abenaki Artists Association has a second exhibit at the Lake Champlain Maritime Museum in Vergennes. “Nebizun: Water is Life” is on display through Oct. 13.

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