Native American Heritage art exhibit
By Sarah Hall
The artistry and culture of Native Americans will be on display in Salisbury this week.
President Obama has designated November as National Native American Heritage Month.
“The indigenous peoples of North America ó the First Americans ó have woven rich and diverse threads into the tapestry of our nation’s heritage,” Obama said in a proclamation. So “we pay tribute to their participation in all aspects of American society.”
The president encourages American citizens to recognize these contributions through activities and events this month, and Salisbury’s W.G. (Bill) Hefner Veterans Administration Medical Center has taken the charge to heart, reflecting upon Native American heritage with several events throughout the month.
This local focus includes an exhibit of Native American art by two nationally known artists: Edwin George, a full-blood Cherokee, formerly from North Carolina and living in Kent, Ohio; and Sharon Gentle Wind Sun Eagle from the Mattaponi Indian Reservation in Virginia.
John Calvin Presbyterian Church is hosting the exhibit at 1620 Brenner Ave., across the street from the VA Medical Center.
Proceeds from the sale of art and prints from this exhibit will go to Spirit Rising, a nonprofit relief organization assisting Native Americans living in poverty. The organization was founded 20 years ago by Sun Eagle, a medicine drum maker, and his artist wife, Sharon Gentle Wind Sun Eagle.
Sharon met her “peaceful warrior” husband when he arranged to have her paint his drums. She had majored in fine art at University of Dayton and continued studies at the Dayton Art Institute, then Augusta College in Georgia.
The couple used money from selling their drums, paintings and rattles to buy building materials not only for a home for their growing family, but a place to begin a program to help their people.
On the Spirit Rising Web site, Sharon writes that when they first began to construct their home on the reservation, her husband, a traditional holy man, put up a cedar prayer pole, saying it was the only way to start their home and work.
Sharon says, “We always honored our Creator for everything. He (Sun Eagle) would say in his prayers, ‘Thank you, Creator, for without you there is nothing.’ This is the basis of Spirit Rising.”
Since Sun Eagle’s passing in 2003, Sharon has carried on their mission. A moving work of art by Sharon in the exhibit portrays Sun Eagle “going home” to join the ancestors. In the radiant pastel, the holy man beams benevolently above his People shown riding on the back of a turtle, which represents earth.
Sharon expresses a particular fondness for her work “The Spirit of Our Grandmothers Praying to Keep Our River For Our People.”
The Mattaponi River was in the news recently as the Mattaponi Indian Tribe, whose members are descendants of Pocahontas, fought the proposed construction of a 1,500-acre reservoir adjacent to their reservation. Considered one of the most pristine rivers left, it is at the center of Mattaponi livelihood.
The spirits of the grandmothers have much to celebrate as the Mattaponi recently triumphed in the legal battle.
The “Grandmothers” art represents Sharon’s belief that “our ancestors watch over us.”
She also describes herself this way: “I’m a spiritual artist. I always ask that our Creator move through me and guide me through my painting.”
She works on location, and says if an animal comes by while she is painting, she is always sure to include the animal in the work, since she knows the animal spirit is asking to be in the painting.
At Friday’s opening reception for the Native American exhibit, the Rev. Dr. Fleming Otey was on hand to greet the public and discuss the art.
Otey, president of the Salisbury Rowan Ministerial Association and a chaplain for Salisbury’s VAMC, is Native American. He has close ties to the Mattaponi Reservation and Spirit Rising. He was given the name “Holy Eagle” by his mentor, Sun Eagle.
On Thursday, Nov. 19, from 5-7 p.m., the exhibit in the church gallery will again be open to the public, with artist Edwin George in attendance. A centerpiece of the exhibit is, appropriately, George’s work called “Spirit Rising.”
Viewing of the art this Thursday will cap off Native American Day at the VAMC. Other events taking place during the day-long observation include, from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., displays in the VAMC social room in Building 6. The main program takes place for one hour, beginning at noon with the Rowan County honor guard entrance.
Native American food, recipe books and language books will be available during the daytime event, and prints of some of the featured artwork will be on sale.
George will be telling the tale of the Milky Way, in the original Cherokee dialect, using one of his paintings to illustrate the story. His wife, Dona Greene, will translate.
It’s interesting to note that Asheville’s VA Medical Center was recently re-named to honor Private First Class Charles George, who was awarded the Medal of Honor for during the Korean War. He was a cousin of artist Edwin George.
Private George saved the lives of two soldiers while giving his own after diving on a grenade.
Sales of art by Edwin George will benefit both the Spirit Rising organization and a veterans employee fund, as will the Sun Eagle works.
Prices for the framed art range from $35 for prints to $350 for originals.
More information about the artists is available at www.twoturtlesgallery.net and www.spirit-rising2.org.
For more information about Thursday’s events, contact Otey at 704-640-0242.