Works of 18 Native American artists on display at state museum

Natasha Smoke Santiago enjoys paying homage to Native American history, but she’s also passionate ab
Seneca artist Carson Waterman's acrylic painting "Man with Gustowets."
Seneca artist Carson Waterman's acrylic painting "Man with Gustowets."

Natasha Smoke Santiago enjoys paying homage to Native American history, but she’s also passionate about what’s happening today in Iroquoian society.

“I try to keep evolving with my art work, I’m always doing something different, and I hate to be put into a box,” said Santiago, a native of the St. Lawrence River area and a member of the Mohawk Nation at Akwasasne. “I try to tell stories through my artwork and share Haudenosaunee teachings, but my work is also always changing. I’m always looking for something new and different.”

Married with three children, Santiago is one of 18 Native American artists with work on display at the New York State Museum’s exhibit “Represent: Contemporary Native American Art.” Her image, “Emerging Corn,” is front and center as visitors enter the Crossroads Gallery. The piece is three dimensional and made of a plastic mold and actual corn husk, and is painted with acrylics.

“I attended the opening of the event and it was wonderful and so exciting to see my work up front, kind of the focal place as you arrive,” said Santiago. “It meant a lot to me to see my work showcased in that way.”

‘Represent: Contemporary Native American Art’

WHERE: Crossroads Gallery, New York State Museum, 260 Madison Ave., Albany

WHEN: 9:30 a.m.-5 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday, through Sept. 20


MORE INFO: 474-5877,

Like much of her work, “Emerging Corn” includes an image of a woman’s pregnant midsection.

“It connects to our creation story because when Sky Woman fell from the Sky World she was pregnant,” explained Santiago. “I’ve become fairly well known as the ‘belly lady,’ and I use various materials. Sometimes I’ll use some kind of fabric and a lot of bead work. In addition to all my bellies, I’ll also do traditional Mohawk pottery and pipe-making. I originally started out as a painter, but I’ve evolved. My art work is something more like a statue now.”

Lisa Anderson, curator of bioarchaeology at the museum, said people looking for historic images of Native Americans in period garb from centuries ago will have to look elsewhere.

“The exhibit represents a broad spectrum of artists from nations indigenous to New York, and it shows the vibrancy of the Iroquois culture and traditions today,” said Anderson, who has been at the museum for 29 years. “This is much more of a representation of today’s native peoples. This shows us that Native Americans are still here. It tells us there identity is distinct and that their culture and traditions are still vibrant and active.”

According to Anderson, the state museum has been collecting Native American artifacts since the mid-19th century.

“When people think about Native Americans they often think of some distant and dark past,” she said. “We were documenting a vanishing culture and have been doing that since the 1850s. People in New York are very aware of the antiquity and archaeology of native peoples, but this exhibit is more about how they live today.”

The museum’s collection of contemporary art was started in 1986 and now contains 130 objects. According to the museum’s web site, “the collection offers insight into the endurance and evolution of tradition in tribal communities and a profound determination to survive and express as sovereign nations.”

The collection on display in the Crossroads Gallery includes everything from baskets to bead work to various forms of modern art. Roger Perkins, a member of the Mohawk Nation, has two digital prints of his work in the exhibit, “Bear Clan” and “1 Pop Arted Tonto,” and Brenda Hall, a member of the Tuscorora-Choctaw Nation, has two items of Earthenware on display, “Pot with Wampum Bead Rim” and “Bear Comb.”

Other Native American nations represented in the exhibit are the Senecas, Onondagas and Cayugas, while David Bunn Martine, who contributed “Mandush, Shinnecock Sachem of the 17th Century,” an acrylic on canvas, is of Shinnecock/Montauk and Chiricahua Fort Sill Apache descent.

Reach Gazette reporter Bill Buell at 395-3190 or [email protected]

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