Portraits of Mashantucket Pequot women
A new and very notable exhibition opened at the Mashantucket Pequot Museum and Research Center in October.
“The Indigenous People’s Project: The Mashantucket (Western) Pequot Women,” which is on view through May 27 of next year in the museum’s Temporary Gallery, highlights indigenous women over several generations.
The work is created and curated by Angel Beth Smith, a renowned artist of Narragansett heritage. She has quite a background, including graduating from Rhode Island School of Design.
The drawings are primarily sepia-toned portraits, except for two pieces that are life-sized, two-dimensional, full-color works. They aim to represent the beauty and diversity of Mashantucket Pequot women.
Joshua Carter, executive director of the Mashantucket Pequot Museum and Research Center, said in a statement, “The Indigenous People’s Project conveys the story of past and present generations of Native people, beginning with Mashantucket Pequot Women. Angel’s latest project exemplifies the spirited determination, vibrant character, and resilient fortitude of the Mashantucket Pequot women and we couldn’t be prouder and more honored to host this incredible exhibition at Mashantucket.”
In an interview, Carter said of the exhibit, “This is so special.”
He said that Smith “is amazing, not just as an artist but as a human. … She has been a significant part of our community for a very long time. … She has had a close relationship with the women of this community, so she was very specific in who she chose in a way of representing the entire community. Young folks all the way up to elders are part of it.”
Smith drew the images from photographs that she had women submit, along with a few archive images from the museum.
She is adding pieces, so, by the end of November, there will be 47 works on view.
This is not an exhibit that is meant to showcase what Smith can do as an artist. It is instead about the tribe.
“The whole idea of the exhibit is to highlight Mashantucket,” she said. “It’s actually seeing the tribe through my eyes.”
Smith knows most of the people she drew, and she said the art reflects “my gratitude and my thank you for their kindness to me because I’ve worked for the tribe for quite some time, and they are gracious, they are kind, they are forgiving. Having watched them, having worked for them, I love them, I love Mashantucket. … They’ve embraced me.”
Smith, who grew up in Providence, R.I., has worked for the tribe for 14 years and is now the creative services manager in the public affairs department.
“They’ve welcomed me, and they have been extremely kind, welcoming, loving, generous,” she said.
Smith, 62, has been a professional artist for four decades. She’s also been doing music her whole life; she is a classically trained musician, and her primary instrument is the flute.
For the works in the exhibit, Smith used colored pencil and paper, and she created a layering effect.
“It almost makes it look like you could touch it. It almost looks feathered,” she said.
The average portrait for this show took Smith about 50 hours to create.
“It’s repetitive, and it takes a very long time to do … because of the layering. There are some portions of the portraits where it’s 17 layers to get one,” she said.
And it’s not just the artistic aspect that’s important: “When you draw a portrait, you kind of have to put a soul on paper,” she said.