September 27, 2012

Mohawk art, then and now


---- — AuSABLE FORKS — Margaret Horn has lived in Jay for seven years.

She was thrilled to join her son, Thahawitha (“He brings it with him”), and granddaughter, Wattsitsonni (“She makes the flowers bloom”), in the Adirondacks, the ancestral homeland of her people.

But over time, she discovered she didn’t see anything visible pertaining to the Mohawk Nation or Kanienkehaka.

She changed that with “Mohawk of the Adirondacks,” an art exhibit at The Windows Gallery of the Tahawus Lodge Center, featuring the works of Towanna Miller, Kakwirakeron Montour, Star Horn, Cheyanne Doxtador, Natasha Santiago Smoke and Barbara Little Bear, all artists from Kahnawake or Akwesasne.

The exhibit runs through Friday, Oct. 12, and celebrates Mohawk history, art and culture through the ages. Artifacts on display include cradleboards, a corn pounder, and horn and turtle rattles. An array of baskets created from birch bark, sweet grass and porcupine quill are displayed.

“I knew Rebecca Kelly at the Tahawus Lodge through dance,” said Margaret, show curator and an advocate for aboriginal society and culture for a quarter century.

“I discovered what they were doing," Margaret said. "I approached them in the early spring. I suggested we start off with something I can identify, something easy for me to organize and create as a Mohawk.” 

In Canada, Margaret’s ventures included jewelry, art, documentary film, education and tourism.

“Part of the intent for me was to start making connections with people here, so they could discover what the Mohawks are. They are still alive and producing artwork, especially through crafts. It’s a very easy way to engage people to be able to talk about culture through art,” she said.

On exhibit is a beaded women’s yoke by Barbara Little Bear.

“Traditionally, there was a lot of beadwork,” Margaret said. “On our regalia, our traditional dress, that is one of the pieces we’re showing.”

When she was a very young girl, an aunt showed Margaret how to do appliqué beadwork on felt.

“Through the years, I did some beadwork, loom work and beading. I designed and created jewelry from old photographs. It didn’t necessarily have to be Mohawk. We borrow things from here and there,” she said.

While she was in college, she supplemented her income by creating jewelry. She majored in social services, had two children and worked for many nonprofits. 

She worked a decade in corrections in Canada and eventually earned a master’s degree in Canadian studies, focusing on justice issues. For the next 15 years, she worked for nonprofits tasked with social and cultural development. She worked several years as director of aboriginal tourism in Canada.

She’s semi-retired and enjoys her carpenter son’s renovation of her AuSable Acres home.

“I find the Adirondacks pleasing. There’s so much to do. I’m kind of reluctant to return back to the reserve. It’s right next to the city, Montreal. It’s a completely different atmosphere,” Margaret said.

She’s in the development stage of a six-part documentary on the lives of Mohawk ironworkers.

In the meantime, she’s busy with “Mohawk of the Adirondacks.”

The exhibit includes a few of her vintage pieces, a medallion and a beaded belt with Iroquoian motifs.

Star Horn, her daughter, is a visual artist, graphic designer and rustic-furniture maker based in Perth, Ontario. The exhibit includes a work from Star's “Story Teller Series.”

“She’s been an artist all her life," Margaret said. "She never stopped painting and drawing over the years. She was drawing when she was 4 years old. She was at the table hours on end.”

Email Robin Caudell:

IF YOU GO WHAT: "Mohawk of the Adirondacks." WHEN: Through Oct. 12. WHERE: The Windows Gallery, Tahawus Lodge Center, 14234 Route 9N, AuSable Forks. HOURS: 1 to 4 p.m. Thursdays through Sundays and by appointment. CONTACT: For questions, call 647-2106 or email