Woodland Indian Traditional Artist Project Collection, 1992-1995



Folklorist James P. Leary and photographer Lewis Koch conducted the ethnographic documentation of 16 master artists in the region and purchased artifacts from most of them. Janet C. Gilmore coordinated the project's administration, the Wisconsin Folk Museum exhibit design and installation, the traveling exhibit production and tour, and the summer-fall 1995 artist demonstration series. Fred Nahwooksy and UW-Madison graduate student Susan Neill installed the Folk Museum exhibit, folklorist Anne Pryor developed a curriculum guide, reviewed by Francis Steindorf, and led tours of the exhibit with area schoolchildren, and folklorist Trudy Balcom toured the traveling exhibit during Summer 1995. Wisconsin Folk Museum Board members Sheila Leary, Andrea Christofferson, and Anne Bandow, as well as Museum staffer Lonna Arneson helped with publicity, marketing, events, and sales. Paul Borowsky compiled mailing lists for publicity. Regional folklorists, notably Rick March, Phil Nusbaum, and Steve Ohrn, along with the Michigan Traditional Arts Program team of Yvonne Lockwood, Marsha MacDowell, and Kurt Dewhurst, provided help in identifying master artists to document or in putting together mailing lists to reach the region's Indian nations.

Project History

This project aimed to document and exhibit Woodland Indian traditional heritage in the Upper Midwest region through a representative range of artists, nations, genders, ages, and artistic expressions. Undertaken in 1992 through the Wisconsin Folk Museum, the project resulted in ethnographic documentation, an artifact collection, an exhibit installed at the Folk Museum, a traveling photo-text exhibit that was hosted at Lac du Flambeau, Mille Lacs, Oneida, and Stockbridge-Munsee venues, and a summer-fall series of artist demonstrations at the Folk Museum through 1995. Grants from the National Endowment for the Arts (Folk Arts), the Wisconsin Arts Board, the Fund for Folk Culture, and the Dane County Cultural Affairs Commission supported different phases of the project.

Artists documented included Bertha Blackdeer (Ho-Chunk black ash baskets), Elena Greendeer (Ho-Chunk beadwork and appliqué), Josephine Daniels (Potawatomi moccasins), Ned Daniels (Potawatomi cradleboard), Kenneth Funmaker Sr. (Ho-Chunk German silver jewelry), Margaret Hart (St. Croix Ojibwa moccasins and beadwork), Gerald Hawpetoss (Menominee moccasins and regalia), Myron Lowe (Ho-Chunk woodcarvings), Edwin Martin (Stockbridge-Munsee silver jewelry), Kim Cornelius Nishimoto (Oneida cornhusk dolls), Earl Nyholm (Ojibwa birchbark canoe), Julia Nyholm (Ojibwa rabbit fur blanket), Batiste Sam (Mille Lacs Ojibwa birchbark baskets), John Snow (Ojibwa icefishing decoys), Adeline Wanatee (Meskwaki fingerwoven yarn sashes), and Louis Webster (Menominee courting flute).

A half-hour Down Home Dairyland radio program on Woodland Indian courting flute music featured Louis Webster and aired in Fall 1994. The in-house exhibit, “We Chose to Go That Way: Works and Words by Master Traditional Woodland Indian Artists of the Upper Midwest,” opened at the Wisconsin Folk Museum in May 1995 and ran until the Museum closed in 1996. It represented each of the 16 artists by one or more artifacts, a biography, a lengthy quote, and two to five photographs showing the artist at work, materials and construction techniques, and the context in which the artist works. Gilmore and Leary worked with folklorist educator Anne Pryor to develop an in-house exhibit tour for 4th, 5th, and 8th grade students. Pryor created a curriculum guide and conducted the tours with area teachers and students during Spring and Fall 1995, while Gilmore provided a behind-the-scenes exhibit installation component.

The traveling photo-text exhibit, “The Only Way to Get It, Is to Make It: The Experiences of Woodland Indian Traditional Artists,” combined 36 historical and contemporary photographs with quotations from the artists. Arranged to convey significant experiences shared by the artists, the 12 photo-text panels explored such themes as the grounding of traditional arts in an old way of life, the importance of ancestors, spirituality, the dynamic between tradition and innovation, and the various influences of white contact and the pan-Indian powwow scene on traditional arts. Folklorist Trudy Balcom toured the exhibit during Summer 1995 to the Lac du Flambeau Chippewa Museum, the Mille Lacs Indian Museum, the Oneida Nation Museum, and the Stockbridge-Munsee Arvid E. Miller Memorial Public Library. In 1996 the Oneida Nation Museum purchased the exhibit from the Wisconsin Folk Museum.

The summer-fall artist demonstration series at the Folk Museum in 1995 featured traditions related to both Woodland Indian and Norwegian-American exhibits at the Museum. Demonstrators included Menominee Gerald Hawpetoss, Ojibwas John Snow and Earl and Julia Nyholm, Ho-Chunks Bertha Blackdeer, Elena Greendeer, Ruth Cloud (baskets), and Lila Blackdeer (regalia), and Norwegian-American musician Bruce Bollerud, woodcarver Ed Barsness, fiddlemaker Ron Poast, and rosemaler Lois Mueller.