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Arts of the Anishinaabe: Exhibit opens at Watermark Art Center

BEMIDJI - The crowds were steady for the opening reception honoring the Anishinaabe Arts Initiative Exhibit on Thursday evening at the Watermark Art Center.

Many of the artists on hand at the center at the Carnegie Library listened to the praise of visitors and answered questions about their work, which came as a direct result of having been awarded AAI grants by the McKnight Foundation as administered through the Region 2 Arts Council, which is also located in the building.

"We coordinated this exhibit to go along with Duane Goodwin's installation on the main floor of the arts center," said Lori Forshee-Donnay, executive director of Watermark Art Center. "This is something we've wanted to do for awhile. We have set up the reception upstairs to give more room downstairs for all the artwork."

Mary Guardipee from the White Earth Nation works in Bemidji for a sign company. She's been involved in art since she was a child. Her grandmother was a very good artist, she said. Her painting on exhibit is called 'A Study of Thirds.'

"With sign painting, you need to keep everything centered and this was a chance for me to do off-centered work," Guardipee said of her work. "I had this image of an eagle that I thought would just slip right in there in front of the sun, and it does."

A 3-D piece Guardipee has on display is a birch bark mask she made during an art class at Bemidji State University.

Artist Debra Warren described her spiral "God's Eye" as more representative of Southwestern art. "I used to teach Ojibwe art for about 15 years, K through 12, on the White Earth Reservation but when I moved up here, I started doing these over at the Walker school," she said. "When I worked with Cass Lake and Bena districts I also taught them how to do (fiber art) there."

After leaving teaching, Warren continued to make her spiral art. And she also does Hopi art; a 6-foot piece is located at the Bemidji Adult Learning Center. It is called "Hopi God's Eye" and it has 24 dowels, painted black; Warren did a weaving that looks like a big sun burst of color.

There's a feast for the eyes at the exhibit because of all the colors and original designs in bead and quill work by Mel Losh, the fancy shawl by Roseland Jones fastened to the wall to show the entire concept, or the regalia made by Dana and Duane Goodwin and the bright, paintings of Wesley May grounded in native spirituality.

"When I started this "Self Portrait," I started thinking a lot about myself," said May. "What could I do to make my life better, so when I got done with the background, I started to listen to myself; originally the face in the middle was heart shaped. Then I realized that I have love, everybody has love; that is just a person; not a black person, not a white person, it could be anybody within the medicine wheel face. I have faith in the creator."

May chose to wear the same type of clothing for the "Self Portrait" as he manufactures for sale at pow-wows and on his website. May's line of clothing (T-shirts and Hoodies) starts with an original painting he then has screen printed; he then does the bead work and finishing touches that make the piece unique. His plan is to open a factory in Red Lake in three to five years to manufacture the clothing and beaded accessories. You can find him on Facebook at Wesley May Arts. To date, May has sold about 3,000 shirts. He said his goal is to make enough money to support various charities. May has also been approached by "Indian Country Today" magazine, among others, to display his work. This summer, he plans on attending art shows in New Mexico, Oklahoma, Chicago and Milwaukee, he said.

The exhibit is open through April 14 during regular visiting hours, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday, at the center at 426 Bemidji Ave. It is free and open to the public. This building is not handicapped accessible for wheelchairs or walkers.


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