Many moons: Mashantucket Pequot Museum showcases Native art and traditions in new exhibition
Visitors to a new exhibition at the Mashantucket Pequot Museum first walk into a darkened room where the walls flicker with projections — an image of nearby Long Pond, the water seemingly rippling in a breeze. A male voice welcomes people to an exhibition honoring and celebrating the museum’s 25th anniversary.
“There are many creation stories throughout Mother Earth. This is ours,” the voice says.
His voice fades out as a figure — Sky Woman — walks onto the screen. She explains the story of Sky Woman and the 13 moons teaching. The Mashantucket Pequots believe that above is a sky world. Following a storm, a tree in the sky world fell, opening a hole to the earth below. As Sky Woman was looking through the hole, she slipped and fell to earth, with birds getting hold of her and gentle placing her on a turtle’s back. She asked animals to swim to the bottom of the ocean to bring her some earth. One did, and Sky Woman planted seeds in that earth; as she sang and danced, the earth spread, eventually becoming Turtle Island — also known as North America. Sky Woman was pregnant and populated the land with Native people.
For Indigenous people, she said, the turtle is important. Every turtle has 13 spaces on its back, and that’s surrounded by 28 spaces on the edge of the shell. The 13 spaces represent the 13 full moons in each calendar year, and the 28 spaces represent the 28 days in a lunar cycle. The turtle shell is used to tell time and as a sort of calendar.
Each of the 13 full moons has its own name, reflecting the time of year it happens. The Harvest Moon, for instance, is in September, the time of year where peopleharvest the last of their crops and prepare themselves for winter.
After Sky Woman finishes her speech, museum-goers stroll into a gallery where pieces reflecting each of those 13 moons are highlighted.
This exhibition is called “Kunâhneepamuhshâtunônak ‘Our Moons’” and features artists from the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation as well as local sister Tribal Nations.
According to the museum, the exhibit “illustrates the Pequot people and the importance of Indigenous relationships. This new exhibit represents the Indigenous teachings of how the cycles of the moon have continually provided guidance and support for the original people of the Northeast through the visual articulation of art.”
The show will run through at least the fall of 2024, and different pieces will be added in over the course of that time.
A sampling of the art:
Robin Spears, Narragansett, created a traditional cradle — using everything from leather to fur, beads to twine — to represent the Gift Giving Moon.
Cherri Willliams, Mashanutucket (Western) Pequot, showcased her digital two-dimensional image of a creature crawling on a tree limb at night, silhouetted against a full moon, for the Falling Leaves Moon.
Matthew Pina, Mashantucket (Western) Pequot, made a 13-month calendar/Pequot medicine wheel for the Green Corn Moon, using wood burning, pinewood and wampum inlay.
Discussing how the artists were chosen, Nakai Northup, who is the museum’s manager of outreach and public programs, said, “The cool thing about it is, it’s an invitational for our 25th anniversary. These are all local artisans who we’ve worked with in the past. They’ve built up a reputation for their work. We invited them to participate.”
The artists chose which moon they wanted to reflect in their work. Northup said the goal was to have at least two pieces to represent each moon.
Over time, each artist will be spotlighted on a landing page for the exhibition on the museum’s website. It will feature more information on the artists and their work.
Using more technology
The projectors used in the introductory aspect to the exhibition — with images of Long Pond and Sky Woman — are the same employed in such immersive shows as the touring Van Gogh exhibition, Northup said. The short-throw lenses on the projectors allow people to walk very close to the wall where the image is and yet not have their bodies cast shadows.
The museum has six of these projectors in-house, and the plan is to buy more in the future, Northup said.
“We’re going to incorporate more technology and specifically projectors to be able to display images and cover a lot of blank space — this is a really big museum, we have a lot of space that isn’t covered. We also have a ton of information we can share,” he said.
Using projectors is easier than painting the walls or covering them with panels and text, and projections still allow the museum to share histories.
“We feel (the projectors) are going to be a great tool to help us,” he said.
As Northup noted, technology has changed a great deal since the museum opened 25 years ago.
“We’re at a point in time where (new technology) is everywhere. Everything is at the tip of our fingers so it’s only right we make this information as easily accessible to people as possible. We have a surplus of information here. We have a story we want to share, and we want to make it as easy to access for our patrons,” he said.
The museum also would like to have that information available on a larger scale so people don’t always have to come into the building to learn, and the Mashantucket Pequots can share their story more broadly.
What: “Kunâhneepamuhshâtunônak ‘Our Moons’”
Where: Mashantucket Pequot Museum, 110 Pequot Trail, Mashantucket
When: Now through at least the fall of 2024; hours 9 a.m.-5 p.m. (last admission 4 p.m.) Wed.-Sat.
Admission: $25 adults, $20 seniors, $20 college students and educators with ID, $16 for ages 6-17, and free for members and for kids under 5
More info: pequotmuseum.org
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