COVID-19 Inspires Akwesasne Artists

The COVID-19 Pandemic has brought a lot of changes in its wake, but it has also inspired some creativity and ingenuity. Local artisans draw on their culture and traditional knowledge to create masks that are truly works of art that raise awareness of Indigenous communities and share messages of resiliency. Native American and other Indigenous communities are among the most hard-hit populations by the Coronavirus Pandemic.

Through intricate beadwork and delicately woven materials, Akwesasne artists are calling upon their talents to craft face coverings that offer a visual message of hope and reflection from an Indigenous perspective. Akwesasne artists Marlana Thompson, Carrie Hill, and Tania Clute received national acclaim and recognition for their beautifully created masks designed in response to the pandemic. These artisans used Haudenosaunee (commonly referred to as Iroquois) iconography, traditional beading styles, and basket-weaving techniques as a celebration of their heritage and perseverance.

Marlana Thompson Baker

Marlana Thompson Baker

Marlana Thompson Baker is a Mohawk artisan from the Wolf Clan that specializes in beadwork, custom-made regalia, and contemporary clothing designs. Her mask pictured above is titled, Ononkwashon: a/Medicine Plants and is decorated with elements that signify her family. You will see symbols of three skydomes, traditional medicines, strawberries and cedar, and the insignia C-19 2020, acknowledging the COVID-19 Pandemic. Marlana’s mask is currently on display at the Smithsonian’s Renwick Gallery in Washington, DC.

“I have reflected most on my family’s future during this time. I have had to adjust the way I do my business, how I market and make my sales. My business provides for my family so I had to adapt to the changing times. Covid has also allowed me to see what is important to my family as a whole and help me plan for the future, be it food security or collecting medicines and firewood.”

Marlana is the Owner & Designer of Okwaho Creations, to see her work and purchase one-of-a-kind creations visit her Facebook shop.

Carrie Hill

Design by Carrie Hill

Carrie Hill is the artist and owner of Chill Baskets. Carrie is a multigenerational basket weaver, specializing in the use of natural and traditional Black Ash and Sweetgrass materials, which can be found locally. Her mask pictured above was created as an educational piece adorned with woven spikes, intentionally placed in the middle and most outward part of the face-covering to emphasize the message of “stay away.” Carrie has made several masks in response to COVID-19 including one that was featured in First American Art Magazine’s virtual art exhibit. Carrie received Judge’s Choice for her mask titled, #COVIDCreation.

Visit the Akwesasne Cultural Center to see a collection of Carrie’s basketry on display. To learn more about Carrie and her history of basket making, visit her website.

Tania Clute Jacobs

Tania Clute is a Mohawk artisan who specializes in delicately crafted jewelry-sets and leather work, using raised and flat beadwork styles to accentuate her designs. Tania Clute is part of the artist collective that works with Two House Design-Crafters, assisting with instruction of workshops to teach others how to make craft items. Most notably, Tania put her skills to work by creating several COVID-inspired face coverings that received national attention. She designed this mask titled, “Guided by Our Ancestors” reflecting on the reality and challenges our Indigenous brothers and sisters are facing during the pandemic. While we fight an invisible enemy in COVID-19, we are also having to handle unprecedented mental health challenges as COVID restricts our ability to gather and support each other as we often do in Indigenous communities. This mask honors Indigenous traditional teachings and is laden with symbols which represent Mohawk culture.

Design by Tania Clute

Reflecting on this past year, “It’s hard trying to balance getting our family through the pandemic, while also making time to work on my creations, especially once online classes started. I’ve been really proud of how we have all come together to get each other through this challenging time. I’m part of the artist collective with Two House Design-Crafters and we’ve managed to adapt to a new way of doing business, for the most part. I do miss helping with classes and can’t wait until we can get back to the teaching part of our work. I’m also very proud of my children and their ability to roll with the changes in our lives.”

To see more inspiring works-of-art from Tania and artists of Two House Design-Crafters visit their website.


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