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Exhibition in Duluth will support Standing Rock

Janet McTavish talks about the quilt she made to show support for the on Standing Rock reservation who are protesting the Dakota Access Pipeline in North Dakota. The quilt is one to the items that will be featured at a Dec. 9 art exhibit/concert/fundraiser at the American Indian Community Housing Organization. Steve Kuchera / skuchera@duluthnews.com1 / 4
Artist and AICHO cultural program coordinator Moira Villiard straightens the Steve Premo painting “We Are The Custodians” in Trepanier Hall in preparation for the Dec. 9 art exhibit/concert/fundraiser. Steve Kuchera / skuchera@duluthnews.com2 / 4
Curator Wendy Savage hangs the Martin DeWitt painting “Cascade” in Trepanier Hall in preparation for the Dec. 9 art exhibit/concert/fundraiser. Steve Kuchera / skuchera@duluthnews.com3 / 4
Detail of the quilt Janet McTavish made in support of people at Sacred Stone Camp protesting the Dakota Access Pipeline. Steve Kuchera / skuchera@duluthnews.com4 / 4

Addressing the North Dakota pipeline protests that are the largest tribal movement in more than a century, Wendy Savage talked first about the need to protect water and how rare it is, in relation to the rest of the world, that most of our tap water is potable.

But the local artist and curator grew more impassioned as she spoke and was soon saying that U.S. Sen. Al Franken's letter in support of the tribes to the Department of Justice last week was hollow for stopping short of any real action.

When asked what she thought would end the Standing Rock protests, Savage was stark.

"It will end like it always does," she said, recalling a bloody history between the United States government and its tribal nations, "with a massacre."

Despite her chilling assessment, Savage and two other women were doing their best to help create a better outcome last week. Savage, Moira Villiard and Janet McTavish were just beginning to hang artwork in advance of a benefit Dec. 9 at Trepanier Hall in downtown Duluth.

Sponsored by the American Indian Community Housing Organization, the benefit will feature an art exhibit and performances by local musicians. An open call for artists has yielded more than 100 contributors, whose performances and works will be related to the #NoDAPL movement — the social media tag used by supporters and protesters who want to see the Dakota Access Pipeline rerouted away from the Standing Rock Indian Reservation, site of the months-long protest.

Proceeds from the benefit, titled "Standing Strong for Our Precious Water," will go toward purchasing a truckload of buffalo meat to be transported to the kitchens at the protest site.

"This is kind of a fast turnaround and show, but the response from artists has been overwhelming," said Savage, whose curated shows at the American Indian Center inside Trepanier Hall have drawn crowds of up to 300 people regularly. She expects as many this time.

The centerpiece of the show is an elaborate quilt made by McTavish that features two blended scenes — one traditional and one of the protesters who describe themselves as "water protectors" — built from a mosaic of thousands of photographs and other images. McTavish arranged photos and printed them onto the copy paper-sized pieces of cloth that were quilted and sewn together by her well-known artist daughter, Karen McTavish.

A poem written by Janet McTavish runs around the frame of the quilt and features the words, "Today I cry out with the people at Standing Rock."

Some of the images within the mosaic are photos from Standing Rock that were shared with Villiard, who put out a call for photos several weeks ago. Social media is rife with imagery from Standing Rock and it wasn't long before Villiard's email inbox was filled with photos. The quilt came together quickly after that.

Unlikely to attend the protests in person, McTavish, 78, and the others said they want to contribute using the skills they own.

"What I want to offer is my passion, which is my art," McTavish said.

For the last several years, McTavish has been infusing her quilts and other works with messages. One featured a message espousing The Golden Rule of "doing unto others ..." that McTavish says is common to every religion.

The Standing Rock protest's effort to preserve the water of the Missouri River and its tributaries as sacred made for a natural fit with McTavish's work, she said.

"There's always something I want to say," she said, adding that the quilt will go on a national tour of quilting shows following its debut at the Standing Strong show. All of the artwork will be for sale and "30 percent of the profits will go toward the meat fundraiser," Villiard said.

The Standing Strong show is just the latest effort by Northland supporters to reach out in support of the protests. For several months, groups of people have been caravaning to the Dakota plains with supplies, including tepee canvasses and poles cut from the Fond du Lac Tribal and Community College grounds.

But, "my skill is gathering artists," Savage said. "Artists have always been the keepers of others' oppression."

If you go

  • Standing Strong for Our Precious Water
  • Dec. 9 in the American Indian Center at 202 W. Second St.
  • Art opening, 5 p.m.
  • Concert, 7 p.m.
  • Suggested donation $10