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VPR's coverage of arts and culture in the region.

'Wearing Our Heritage': Abenaki Artist Curates Exhibit Of Wearable Art

Clockwise from L: Bob and Jeanne Morningstar Kent, Wedding Day, June 1994 at the Institute of American Indian Studies; Jill Cressy-Gross holding her son Solomon in a cradleboard; Behind the Scenes at "Always in Fashion, 11,000 Years of Wabanaki Clothing."

Before her tribe was recognized along with three others in Vermont in 2011 and 2012, Vera Longtoe Sheehan wasn't able to call herself an "Abenaki artist."Sheehan, a citizen of the Elnu Abenaki Tribe and founder of the Vermont Abenaki Artists Association, can now put that label on the twined bags, baskets and twined textiles she makes by hand. She is also very sensitive to the fact that many native artists in the region cannot say that and still be in compliance of old laws.

Sheehan, along with Eloise Beil of the Lake Champlain Maritime Museum, have co-curated the exhibit called 'Alnobak: Wearing Our Heritage' that represents many of the region's indigenous artists. The exhibit is up now at the Amy E. Tarrant Gallery in downtown Burlington through June 17.

"As we put this together, we tried to tell little stories. So this one exhibit has lots of little stories that add up to a big story about heritage and identity." - Vera Longtoe Sheehan, Abenaki artist and co-curator of 'Alnobak: Wearing Our Heritage'

The wearable art and clothing represents the garments and jewelry that tribes would have worn and still wear, from pre-history to today. The gallery is also filled with artifacts, paintings and photographic images of bands and family groups.

Throughout the millennia, Abenaki have always expressed their heritage by wearing symbols on their skin and images woven and sewn into clothing and jewelry. Many of the clothing pieces in the exhibit took the artists months to complete. Several pieces were and are still worn, in daily life and in historical reenactments.

"This is more than just an art exhibit. It's our history. It's our culture," Sheehan said.

"I think people really expect us to be stuck in the past and they don't understand that our history has changed and evolved just like everyone else's," Sheehan said.

'Alnobak: Wearing Our Heritage' is up now at the Amy E. Tarrant Gallery in downtown Burlington through June 17.

Mary Williams Engisch is a local host on All Things Considered.
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