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Sky Woman installation at NU

​St​udent Kirby Redick paints a column for the installation
Nipissing’s Native Creativity and the Arts students have created an installation that visualizes the Iroquois legend of Sky Woman that will be mounted in the foyer of the university’s Muskoka campus on March 30.

The installation was created by students enrolled in the Native Creativy and the Arts course at the Muskoka Campus with Janet Stahle-Fraser, fine art instructor at Nipissing University’s Muskoka campus. 

Stahle-Fraser and her students planned the layout for two weeks before starting the physical work.  The piece has taken five weeks of solid work to complete.

Origin stories are told in homes, school and culture centres.  Artists, writers and actors interpret them for Aboriginal communities and the world.  These stories carry knowledge from the past into the present day.

In origin stories told by different Aboriginal peoples across Canada, legends such as Sky Woman, Sedna, Glooscap, Nanabush and Raven create the world or change it into the world known to human beings.

For the Iroquois (Haudenosaunee), the earth was created in the space between the sky and water.  There are slightly different versions of the creation story which begin with Sky Women falling from the sky.

The legend is that long before the world was created, there was an island in the sky inhabited by sky people.  One day a pregnant Sky Woman drops through a hole in the Sky World created by an uprooted tree.  Nearing the end of her fall, she sees water.  Animals from this water world come to her aid.  A flock of birds catch her and gently guide her down onto the back of a Great Turtle.  Animals like the otter and the beaver prepare a place for her on the back of the turtle by bringing mud from the bottom of the water and placing it on Turtle’s back until solid earth begins to form and increase in size.

Turtle’s back becomes Sky Woman’s home and the plants she brought with her such as tobacco and strawberries are her medicine.  She has a daughter who has twins.  They are called “Good Mind” and “Bad Mind’ and are the orginators of good and evil in the world.

“The legend is a world view, belief system, paradigm, cosmology and being such, infuses native art with all things that lead out of it,” says Stahle-Fraser. “For the last few weeks of the Native Creativity and the Arts course, my students and I decided to visually depict this legend using native styles of art for each of the four columns, representing the directions.  These columns will support a sky scene from which Sky Woman falls down onto the back of the Turtle.”

Stahle-Fraser believes the installation will give the Native Studies program positive exposure both internally and with the general public as it invites visitors to learn about another culture and their world-view. 

Painting the columns had its own challenges because painting on a circular object is quite different than a flat canvas.  There needed to be planning because the art will be seen 360 degrees around.

Lyn Russell, a fine arts student who contributed to the piece, admits that in the beginning everyone was a bit apprehensive because they were unfamiliar with each other and none of the students had attempted to create an installation piece before.

As the weeks leading up to the unveiling of our project progressed, Russell now feels the class has become a unit by making suggestions and helping each other.

“There was a lot of learning in this project, from working together, the entire process of creating as well researching,” says Russell.  “We are all learning from each others' research and appreciating each other, as well as the traditions, history and art of the First Nations People.  It’s really a fun and exciting way to learn.”

“Personally I have raised the bar for myself.  Aside from a plaster mask, I have never created anything three-dimensional or this large before.  I’m a two-dimensional artist so this is a new way of thinking and processing for me, it has been both challenging and rewarding. As this project unified us, I hope it will help unify others as they see our finished installation and our interpretation of creation and the sky woman story. This project will help others appreciate alternative beliefs and perhaps in doing so we can all stand side by side with mutual respect.”

The installation run until the end of April 2015 and will then be moved for a show at the Huntsville Summit Centre titled Our Home on Native Land organized by Huntsville Arts and Culture taking place mid- May to mid- August.

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