Letter to Editor: Hope on display

To the Editor:

I’ve been swimming with loons. I’ve been feasting on lobster. But of all the pleasures of this past summer in Maine, I may just remember the children’s art show at the Abbe Museum most of all.

This is the 18th year that the Abbe has partnered with Maine Indian Education to celebrate the amazing artwork of Wabanaki children in the Houlton Band of Maliseet Indians; the Passamaquoddy Tribe at Indian Township and Sipayik (Pleasant Point); and the Penobscot Nation at Indian Island. And what a celebration it is.

The Abbe has dedicated one entire gallery, a beautifully illuminated rectangle with benches for pausing and musing, to the show. No wonder the Abbe was the first of Maine’s museums to be named an affiliate of the Smithsonian.

The young Wabanaki whose artistry is on display — Tihtiyas, Lennox, Caitlyn and Poniwsis, to name a few — emerge as fearless prodigies. Some are still in pre-kindergarten, others in high school. And yet despite their tender years, they seem adept at working in a wide range of media, from oil paints and pastels to silkscreens and acrylics.

The budding artists choose their subjects carefully and thoughtfully as well. In one painting, a drifty feather shares canvas space with a tree. In another, rainbow-colored wildflowers project a 1960s vibe. Still another eye-catching piece — a portrait inspired by Andy Warhol — pays tribute to a beloved uncle who is a Penobscot chief.

Thanks to my annual pilgrimages to the Abbe each summer, I’ve learned some things about Wabanaki history. The broken treaties, the broken promises. The way their children were once sent away and schooled in becoming more “American.” And yet I’ve also been glad to learn about some of the Wabanaki nation’s victories. Their 12,000 years of influence on the state of Maine. Their stewardship of native-owned blueberry fields. Their joyful, thumping powwows and vibrant craft traditions: beaded regalia, canoe-building, basket-weaving.

Seeing the show is seeing the Wabanaki’s cherished values and proud traditions before your eyes: love of family, pride in culture, respect for nature. It’s a welcome antidote to the divisiveness and disappointment that threatens to define our country now.

Susan Lapinski

New York City

and Sullivan

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