Art by Fort Wayne member of the Miami Tribe of Oklahoma part of new ‘First Nations’ exhibit at Indiana State Museum
When visitors enjoy a new exhibit at the Indiana State Museum in Indianapolis, they’ll be visualizing a Native American story through the artwork of Catherine Nagy Mowry of Fort Wayne.
The Potawatomi Nation tale about how the bear lost its long tale is part of the new “First Nations: The Story of Indiana’s Founding People” exhibit at the state museum.
Mowry, 63, a member of the Miami Tribe of Oklahoma, said she became involved when she was contacted by Michele Greenan, curator of archaeology for the state museum and state historic sites.
A longtime Miami artist, Mowry had done some artwork previously for the state museum for an exhibit, she said. Greenan thought of her again when they needed art to illustrate the Potawatomi tale, which museum visitors hear told by a current member of that tribe.
SHARING THE STORY
Mowry said she had been wanting to illustrate some similar stories passed down among members of the Miami Nation and had started working on that project. When Greenan contacted her last September, she thought, “Oh, this story is just like the Miami story I am working on.”
In the Miami story, however, it’s a wolf who gets tricked by a fox. In the Potawatomi story, a fox tricks a bear into trying to catch fish by dangling his long tail through the ice into the water below.
The bear, who wanted to catch a lot of fish, left his tail in the water into the night. When he finally tried to pull up his catch, his frozen tail fell off.
Before starting her drawings, Mowry read the story and listened to the audio recording of the Potawatomi tribe member telling the tale. She used chalk pastels and colored pencils to draw the seven images that illustrate scenes in the story.
CREATING THE CHARACTERS
In the first drawing, the bear looks more like today’s bears, but with a long tail. Mowry said she then began to give the bear some cartoonish features to make it easier for people to relate to him.
“She liked my style of work, and the working with colors and things, and the pastels,” Mowry said of Greenan.
This was the first time Mowry has illustrated a story or book, but she said she related to it easily.
“My pictures tell stories,” she said of her art. “I use light and symbols.”
PRESERVING THE CULTURE
Mowry, who received her formal art training as a student at the former Fort Wayne Art Institute, does painting, drawing and traditional Miami corn husk and gourd doll making.
By making the dolls and passing on the skill to younger Miami tribe members, “I really feel like I’m giving something back to my Miami roots,” she said.
“My paintings are much more personal,” she added, saying they reflect her inner feelings and visions.
She shows and sells her work at juried Native American art shows and a few local events. She also is serving this year as a Native American artist-in-residence at Mounds State Park near Anderson. Her work there is part of the Arts in the Parks and Historic Sites program, which is a partnership between the Indiana Department of Natural Resources and the Indiana Arts Commission.
She will hold a painting class there June 23-24 and will teach corn husk doll making later in the year.
“I feel they are my ancestors,” she said of the ancient people who built the mounds preserved at the state park. “We somehow are always connected to the people or this land.”
To find out more about Catherine Nagy Mowry’s art, email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.