Cultural celebration American Indians share traditions in weeklong festival

November 15, 1990|By Phyllis Brill | Phyllis Brill,Evening Sun Staff

LOUANN REED LEARNED to make pottery from her grandmother while growing up in the Pueblo community of Acoma, N.M. Today, the 27-year-old potter makes her home in Arlington, Va., exhibiting her work in suburban galleries and sharing her talent at area festivals that celebrate Indian traditions.

When Baltimore's third annual National Native American Cultural Arts Festival opens next week, Reed will be there to demonstrate the Acoma pottery technique to visitors of all backgrounds, but particularly, she hopes, to those of Indian descent.

"I think it's important to pass the tradition on to other generations," she says, adding that her grandmother, at 86, is still making pottery in New Mexico.

Reed is one of about 30 American Indian artists from across the country who will be exhibiting in the festival's art show, which opens, appropriately enough, Thanksgiving Day in the Marriott Hotel. The rest of the events in the festival, which begins Monday and runs through Nov. 25, will be held across Pratt Street in Festival Hall.

Besides pottery, the artists will show and offer for sale jewelry, baskets, beadwork, paintings and wood carvings -- many rich in the symbolism that typifies traditional Indian handwork.

Art created by Indians is almost always representational, says John Iron Shell, an outreach counselor with the Baltimore American Indian Center in Fells Point, which is sponsoring next week's festival. "A lot of the beliefs of the Indian people have to do with symbols, like animals and colors and shapes. All these things represent something to different tribes."

Iron Shell teaches children in Baltimore's Indian community about their cultural history in a class at the Indian Center. He also dabbles in art, particularly pen-and-ink sketches and beadwork. His talents at this year's festival have been focused on assisting local youngsters in making their own regalia for the powwow portion of the festival.

The children have learned to work with leather, beads, turkey feathers, cane and bone to create the costumes they will wear for the various dance competitions scheduled for the last three days of the festival. This hands-on approach is the most practical way for youngsters to learn about their American Indian roots, says Iron Shell, a Sioux Indian who was born and raised on a reservation in South Dakota.

"To my people, the buffalo is very sacred," he says, noting that often the depiction of or omission of objects in a tribe's art has grave significance. "The buffalo was the provider to the Sioux. We used every part of it -- the bones for utensils and jewelry; the meat for meals; the hide for clothing and for our tents."

Other tribes would find other symbols sacred, says Iron Shell. "The Mohawk has the tree of life, the tree of peace," he says. For others, the bear might represent strength or healing. The eagle and the hawk also have significant meaning to most Indian tribes, he says.

Reed, who has been professionally exhibiting and selling her pottery about four years, notes that "we don't put the eagle on our pottery. The only bird the Acoma use on pottery is the parrot." She's also discovered in research at the Smithsonian Institution that some of the more common Acoma symbols are a series of straight lines for rain, zigzags for lightning and steps to represent the mesas or pueblos so common in the Southwest.

Most of the pots Reed creates are ollas. "Today they are appreciated as art objects," she says. "But in the past they were utilitarian items. They were larger and they held water."

Other artists make seed pots, smaller pots like those in which planters would store their seed until the planting season began, she says. Still other Acoma pottery is in the form of figurines. These "storytellers" depict an adult surrounded by children "listening" to a tale.

Reed's ollas are made with simple materials using an earthenware process. With a large brown stone from her native New Mexico serving as a palette, she rubs other stones against it and adds water to the residue to create her "paints." A tiny reed becomes her artist's brush.

Most of her pots are painted in brown and yellow, which turns a golden orange color when fired.

Reed, like some of the other artists in the show, will be bringing her materials with her so that visitors can see her work in progress as well as the finished products on display.

The art show runs from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Thursday througSaturday and from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday.

Powwow expected to attract thousands

The National Native American Cultural Arts Festival gets under way Monday at Festival Hall with promises of something for everyone: Indian arts and crafts and food; dancing and drumming from morning to night; magicians, musicians and storytellers to entertain the kids; and even a full-size tepee or two.

The festival, the third annual in Baltimore, is being sponsored by the Baltimore American Indian Center. It will run through Nov. 25 in Festival Hall and the Marriott Hotel.

The entertainment will include at least two performances a day by the Aztec Dancers and ventriloquist and magician Buddy Big Mountain. The dancers are a family of six from Seattle, Wash., who travel extensively performing traditional Indian dances. "Buddy," a Mohawk-Cheyenne Indian, uses magic, ventriloquism and puppetry to teach youngsters a few things about American Indian culture.

An estimated 2,500 to 3,000 American Indians are expected to be in attendance when the official powwow begins Nov. 23. This portion of the festival will feature performers in full regalia, dancing, drumming and singing in competition throughout the day. More than $10,000 in prize money will be awarded.

Admission to the festival is $4 a day. Hours are 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday, Friday and Saturday; 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. Tuesday and Wednesday; 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday; and, except for the art show at the Marriott, closed on Thanksgiving Day. Call 675-3535 for more information.

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