The Pokagon Band community boasts numerous talented artists. Some create traditional pieces using old ways, such as black ash baskets, stone or wood carving or pottery. Others are inspired by contemporary media or creative outlets, like photography, body art or jewelry.
Traditional arts served a function and were made from materials found in nature. Baskets made from black ash trees carried harvests and other items. Potawatomi made drums and rattles to use in celebrations and ceremonies, and crafted them from elk or deer hide and wood. Bead and quill work adorned special clothing or items for spiritual purposes.
“Our people have been making baskets for a thousand years,” says John Pigeon, Pokagon citizen and seventh generation black ash basket maker. “Even without knowing me, my ancestors passed this gift down to me. And I want my grandchildren and their grandchildren to hold onto these things just like I did.”
John Pigeon is a past recipient of the Michigan Heritage Award, and other Pokagon artists have been honored with awards, apprenticeships and residencies acknowledging their role as community leaders and tradition bearers. Such institutions as the Eiteljorg Museum of American Indians and Western Art in Indianapolis, the Heard Museum in Phoenix, Arizona, the Smithsonian Folklife Festival in Washington D.C. and the Annual Art Market at the National Museum of the American Indian have recognized their cultural contributions and work.
The Brown family includes several generations of black ash basket makers. Jamie Brown’s large strawberry basket was featured on the cover of an issue of the National Museum of the American Indian magazine, and the Smithsonian Institute purchased and will soon display that piece. Jennie Brown, Jamie’s mother, won the Daniel “Gomez” Mena Master Apprenticeship for her work as a mentor to her fifteen-year-old son and apprentice, Josiah
Jason S. Wesaw is a pottery artist, photographer and singer and drummer. His preferred medium is clay, because he is able to build something from a piece of the earth. “I have harvested clay from near Lake Michigan, and I am able to give a voice to that material.” Another pottery artist is Kathy Getz Fodness. “I like working with clay because it is a way to re-create the things I see, things I love from my life, my travels, from my ancestors in a permanent and lasting way. I want the viewer to connect with my art through his or her own personal experiences and memories. I hope that when using my pottery, you are offered a chance to enjoy something from within, a moment of contemplation and beauty while experiencing the most ordinary of every day moments.”
You can view many of today’s Pokagon artisans work throughout Pokagon government buildings, at Four Winds Silver Creek Event Center, hotel and three casinos and in the gift shop in New Buffalo. Often Potawatomi artists sell and display their work at the pow wows or the art show fair each November at the Pokagon Community Center in Dowagiac.