Focus on Ho Chunk Artists & Culture
One of the most rewarding experiences I have as a photographer is the work I do for the Little Eagle Arts Foundation. It’s a nonprofit whose mission statement is, “Little Eagle Arts Foundation (LEAF) is a nonprofit organization dedicated to preserving and promoting American Indian art by cultivating the entrepreneurial spirit of American Indian/First Nations artists in order to achieve success and promote a cycle of economic security.” Being that they are a nonprofit, and have incredibly thoughtful leadership, I do not charge them for my services. In return I have been able to interact with people that I find very inspirational.
Naturally taking photos of cultural demonstrations, such as at the Driftless Historium & Mount Horeb Area Historical Society, is a common subject matter, as well as taking photos of Native Art Marketplaces. Through doing so I have met amazing artists whom I have tremendous respect for.
In the above series of images, Ho Chunk member Elliott Funmaker of the Bear Clan led an informative demonstration of native heritage and culture. In this series of images you see a demonstration of the Spear Dance. The bustled man with the porcupine hair roach is wearing Northern Plains regalia, while the other man is in traditional Ho Chunk.
My favorite aspect of this relationship is being able to interact with, and help LEAF founder Melanie Tallmadge Sainz, an esteemed Ho-Chunk artist and educator. Not only is her artwork incredible, but she has a wisdom and strength of personality that I find truly awesome. Being able to speak with her, learn from, and assist when needed enriches my life in very meaningful ways.
In the above series I was able to help install “Call of the Crane” at the main trailhead located at The International Crane Foundation. In the series below I assisted in the installation of her piece, “Reflections” into the Wingra School located in Madison, WI.
I especially enjoy having made good friends with artist and gardener Lighting New Rider, wearing the blue t-shirt in the next series. I was invited to assist in putting together a couple of structures on the sacred land known as Mąą Wákąčąk (Maa = Earth, Wakacak = Spiritual/Sacred). It’s a parcel of flat prairie land that has been reclaimed from the extensive Badger Army Ammunition Plant that had operated here for decades. It manufactured nitrocellulose-based propellants during World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War.
I found the experience of helping to erect ciiporoke, (wigwam, a Hoocąk dwelling) which is the traditional housing of the Ho Chunk Nation, to be very rewarding on a personal level. Other than a few gym, martial arts training buddies, I really don’t have a lot of friends in the area. Working with Lighting New Rider, and Mister Walker was time well spent. It made me feel a brief connection with people, something I have lacked over the past few years due to work, life, and the 2020 pandemic.
In the fall of 2022 I was invited to a Fall Feast at the art studio located at Mąą Wákąčąk. I had just spent nearly three years enduring very intense personal isolation due to a variety of factors. It was the most difficult period of my life as my personal life imploded, and I lost both my business, and underwent my second divorce. It felt incredibly healing to be included in such a community event.
The food was prepared by Elena Terry, the executive chef and founder of Wild Bearies, a non-profit organization that connects communities through indigenous food. I was seated between folks that made me feel at home. To my right were people who were helping to restore the natural setting to this old army base, and to my left sat elders that gave me a feeling of being near family. For me it was an experience not unlike coming up from under the ice and breathing in air once more.