Wíwənikan… the Beauty We Carry

The Colby College Museum of Art honors those who came before us

Sarah Sockbeson, Penobscot Ash Basket, 2011, brown ash, sweetgrass, antler, 5¼” x 6⅛” x 6⅛”
Jennifer Neptune, Penobscot Chief’s Regalia, 2014, wool, glass beads, cotton canvas, cotton twill tape, nylon beading thread, cotton thread, metal hooks, Velcro, eagle feathers, 16” x 8½” x 9½” (headdress), 6½” x 14½” (each cuff), 26½ x 183/4 ” (collar)
Mary Sanipass, Miniature Hamper Baskets (set of three), 1997, brown ash, 10” x 7” x 7”, 12” x 8” x 8”, 7” x 4” x 4”
Tim Shay, Basketmaker, 2006, Colorado alabaster, 12½” x 10” x 8”
Reuben “Butch” Phillips, Moose Call, 2016, birchbark, cedar, waxed twine, 8” x 18” x 6½”; courtesy of the Penobscot Nation Museum

The Colby College Museum of Art’s latest exhibition, Wíwənikan…the Beauty We Carry, showcases contemporary art by First Nations artists whose people were the original inhabitants of what is now Maine and maritime Canada. This group is composed of five primary indigenous nations—the Maliseet, Micmac, Passamaquoddy, Penobscot, and Abenaki—collectively known as the Wabanaki. Wíwənikan…the Beauty We Carry is the first-ever major exhibition of contemporary Wabanaki art in a museum.

Wíwənikan is the Penobscot word for portage. Portages enable maneuvering around dangerous waters and obstacles and connecting to neighboring watersheds. Portage points have been vital in the lives of First Nations peoples, and the rise and fall of their usage is interwoven into the Wabanaki history. Indigenous peoples were forever changed after European contact; international borders were imposed upon indigenous territories, and settlers altered the rivers and landscapes that the Wabanaki had always relied on for hunting and foraging. Due to these changes and upheavals, Wabanaki ancestors were required to make decisions about which traditions they could carry forward.

As the state of Maine’s 200th birthday approaches, the Colby College Museum of Art seeks to honor the indigenous peoples who have lived here for thousands of years, and to acknowledge that their stories are a significant part of Maine’s cultural fabric. Wíwənikan… the Beauty We Carry was curated and interpreted by Wabanaki curators, artists, and community members. “Basket makers, canoe makers, carvers, painters, and bead workers—the artists in this exhibition are the strong ones, carrying the beauty of their ancestors and culture into the future,” states a press release about the exhibition,which will run until January 12, 2020.