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Did you know that there’s a living history museum in downtown Kitchener? Schneider Haus National Historic Site is a local landmark and Kitchener’s oldest dwelling.
The 1816 homestead was restored and furnished, then opened as a living history museum in 1981. In addition to programming for all ages, a gift shop, and exhibitions, the community museum also has an Artist in Residence program. The Friends of Schneider Haus are an independent group of heritage-minded volunteers that supports and raises funds for museum projects and programs, and they select an annual Artist-in-Residence to showcase a traditional art form at the Schneider Haus National Historic Site throughout the year.
The 2018 Folk Artist-in-Residence, and the 28th Artist in Residence is Naomi Smith, a First Nations artist and educator from Neyaashiinigmiing, Ontario. The opening reception for her exhibit Baggage – Carrying On Between Two Worlds was on July 5, 2018. The exhibit runs through to September 3, 2018 and showcases her most recent bead work creations alongside historic Indigenous beaded pieces. It features a diverse collection mostly from this area. Some pieces are over 200 years old. There is a piece in the show that she bought in 2003 from someone in the US. It’s the only piece that is documented as being from her reserve around 1900.
Smith is a Native Artisan and Educator from Neyaashiinigmiing, Ontario. Her First Nations heritage inspired a life-long interest in Native American beadwork, adornment and textiles. She is actively involved in educating others about the ways of the First Nations people of the Woodlands and Northeastern area, from a historical and contemporary perspective, often through the story of beads. For 20 years Smith has designed and created traditional Native Beadwork, Leather craft, Moose Hair Embroidery, Quill work, Sweetgrass or birch bark basket making and adornment, always valuing these sacred materials throughout her creative process.
There was a full house on the evening of the opening reception. Smith told the group that she has been beading since she was seven years old. She was part of the 60s Scoop ( Indigenous children were taken from their families and communities for placement in foster homes or adoption) but her adoptive parents made sure that she kept her Indigenous roots. The title of the show references literal baggage, as there were no pockets in traditional Indigenous clothing, so bags were required to carry items, but also baggage around being Indigenous and adopted. Her work honours the past and the art of the ancestors while bringing the beadwork into the future. We learned that seed beads means little spirits, and that intricate pieces or larger pieces can take up to two years to complete. Her creation process is always free form, never planned. She never copies pieces but uses them as creative inspiration.
Although the aesthetics of beaded Indigenous creations fascinated non-Indigenous people, there is no word for “art” in First Nations languages. The idea of making something strictly for decorative purposes was a foreign concept. Pieces were made to be functional, while also telling a story, or commemorating an event or a person.
Smith splits her time between creating artwork and teaching. She is open to sharing cultural knowledge with anyone who wants to learn. The goal is to have Indigenous art and life-ways live on. She says that the only way to secure this is to pass along teachings to others – anyone who shows a sincere interest in learning is the right kind of person in her opinion. If others feel differently, then they are entitled to their viewpoint, but she can only follow what she feels is right. If you’d like to learn the art of beading from her, she’ll be hosting a two day workshop on September 22 and 23, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
After her residency she has a couple of exhibits in the works and she’ll be teaching in Victoria next May plus working with the local school boards as an Indigenous resource person.