Center for Social Concerns unveils Pokagon art collection in coffee house
Kate Kirwan | Monday, February 27, 2023
This past Thursday, Notre Dame students, South Bend community members and tribe members of the Pokagon Band of Potawatomi, filled Geddes Hall coffee house, gathering to celebrate the unveiling of the permanent installation of the Pokagon art collection.
The installation is a part of the Center for Social Concerns’s Arts of Dignity series and features 18 different art pieces placed around Geddes Hall. The pieces were crafted by five local artists from the Pokagon Band of Potawatomi including Jamie Chapman, Kathy Gertz Fodness, John Fox, David Martin and Jason Wesaw.
Michael Hebbeler, a managing director at the Center for Social Concerns, opened by describing the intention of the art installation.
“The art on the walls and in the back shelves is an invitation to acknowledge, engage and learn from the Pokagon Band and Potawatomi — a community rich in resilience, beauty and in relationship with the land and each other,” Hebbeler said.
Demonstrating this communal relationship the Pokagon Band have with each other and the land, the tribe’s Elders Representative, Barbara Ann Martin, offered a blessing over the art pieces in the native Potawatomi language.
“We thank the Creator for the wild animals, the ones that crawl, the ones that walk and the birds. We asked him, for all those spirits that are here today to bless these halls and all who enter them,” Martin said.
Martin offered a paper copy of this prayer to the Center for Social Concerns to be displayed in the coffee house alongside the artwork.
Following the Elder’s invocation, two of the local artists with pieces in the collection offered commentary and reflection on their art.
Kathy Gertz Fodness, creator of the pottery pieces in the back corner cabinet, described that she had been creating pottery since high school.
Her two pottery pieces focus specifically on the Turtle Clan, and elements of the clan’s culture that are meaningful to herself and her tribe.
“I feel like this is my legacy that I’m leaving behind. Not only does it represent me, but more importantly, it represents us as a tribe,” Fodness said.
Fodness told The Observer that the inspiration for her art comes from formative periods in her childhood, spending time with her father and siblings outside. She described that her family and her tribe instilled in her the importance of creating an intimate relationship between herself and the land.
“When I was a little girl, my dad would wake us up early on the weekend. So, when we get home for walking, and that’s where my inspiration comes from. It was just ingrained,” Fodness said.
David Martin, the second artist present at the event, has lived in Zenda Odan (the Potawatomi name for South Bend, Indiana) his whole life. His art takes various forms in the collection, including oil paintings and beadwork.
One of Martin’s paintings on display, “Thunderbird,” focuses primarily on his tribe, the Bear Clan.
“The Thunderbird is actually considered a water protector, and I created it using copper. The copper material we use a lot of times for bowls and ceremonial items. It is known as a symbol of healing. In the background, those are abstracts of water lilies since the thunderbird is a water protector,” Martin noted.
Martin also commented on the beadwork pieces he created.
“The first piece, the blue with the lightning on it, is a dance tie. It’s a men’s contemporary dance tie. There’s actually two beaded sections to it. If you look closely at the section with the lighting on it, I made that when I was 18,” Martin said.
Jason Wesaw, one of the local artists, was a driving force that set this installation in motion. Unfortunately, he was not able to attend the event, but Hebbeler concluded the event with remarks that Wesaw hoped to share with the community.
“Wesaw wanted me to communicate what his work is about,” Hebbeler said. “I remember him saying that his work is about three things: the spirit and nurturing power of the natural world, the ways in which ancient Potawatomi traditional culture remains relevant in modern times and building bridges of communication and understanding between human beings of all races, religions, cultures and ages.”
“This is what this collection is about,” Hebbeler continued. “The art that we get to enjoy, the conversations and the relationship building that resulted in the commitment to doing this collection. May the work inspire and instruct.”
Students, staff and local community members can stop by to view the permanent art collection anytime in the coffee house.