North by Northeast: NYFS Celebrates Mohawk and Tuscarora Traditions

By Overholser, Lisa | Voices: The Journal of New York Folklore, Spring-Summer 2010 | Go to article overview

North by Northeast: NYFS Celebrates Mohawk and Tuscarora Traditions


Overholser, Lisa, Voices: The Journal of New York Folklore


The Hudson Valley Quadricentennial in 2009 spurred all kinds of special celebrations in cities along the Hudson River, from flotilla parades and festivals to art fairs, music performances, and exhibitions. The central focus of the Quadricentennial was Henry Hudson's voyage four hundred years ago up the river that now bears his name. Hudson, an English explorer under contract with the Dutch East India Company to find a quicker trading route to the Near East, set sail with a crew of Dutch and English sailors in hopes of finding that path. He may not have realized it then, but Hudson's explorations on the Dutch boat the Haff Moon would significantly alter the social, cultural, and economic fabric of the northeastern United States.

An important part of the story is his party's contact with indigenous peoples. Among the Native American tribes in the Northeast at the time were a loose confederation of Haudenosaunee (Iroquois is the more common non-native term) tribes of New York State and Canada, as well as the Wabanaki tribes of New England and the Canadian maritime provinces. Cultural traditions like basket making and beadwork served not only functional purposes, but also strengthened familial and tribal connections and demonstrated the integral connection between the environment and the artists' heritage.

For its part in the Quadricentennial celebrations, the New York Folklore Society commemorated these still-thriving cultural traditions with "North by Northeast: Baskets and Beadwork from the Akwesasne Mohawk and Tuscarora." At the core of North by Northeast was an exhibition held from September 25 to October 24, 2009, on the first floor of the historic, sixteen-sided Nott Memorial at Union College in Schenectady, New York. The exhibition displayed the work of Haudenosaunee artists from New York featured in the larger traveling exhibition, "North by Northeast: Wabanaki, Akwesasne Mohawk, and Tuscarora Traditional Arts," curated by folklorist Kathleen Mundell, director of Cultural Resources in Rockport, Maine.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

Helping us open the reception on Friday evening, October 2, was Kathleen Mundell, the curator of the larger traveling exhibition. After speaking briefly about the traveling exhibition, Mundell gave an overview of basket making and beadwork practices among Native American tribes in the Northeastern U.S. and explained how those traditions have changed over the years. Another highlight of the eve ning was the blessing given by Mohawk spokesperson Tom Porter, who works as a Native American spiritual counselor in the New York prison system. Although we had to close the evening in darkness due to electrical problems affecting the entire university, the opening reception was nonetheless a warm, enthusiastic commencement to our month of events.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

Among the Schenectady Greenmarket vendors on Sunday, October 11, were four Haudenosaunee who made the long drive to Schenectady to participate in the market. Artists included Mary Clause (Tuscarora beadworker), Judy Cole (Mohawk basket maker), and Carrie Hill (Mohawk basket maker). Curator Sue Ellen Herne brought a few items from the Akwesasne Museum to sell. Despite the cold, breezy weather, Greenmarket visitors welcomed the opportunity to see the beautiful items at their tables and speak with the artists.

Later that day, as a part of the New York Folklore Society's annual Field Trip, Herne gave a thought-provoking talk on "Culture and Commerce" at the Old Chapel building on the Union College campus. …

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