Cynthia Holmes takes natural materials and transforms them into her art.

The Anishinaabe artist, who was born in Virginia and grew up in Minneapolis, sees this is as a natural extension of who she is.

"I'm Ojibwe," Holmes said, as she glanced around her powerful exhibit at the Tweed Museum's store last week. "My work is focused on tribal art forms and working primarily with papier-mache."

Not that papier-mache is her only medium.

For this artist who trained at the Rhode Island School of Design in Providence, R.I., as well as at the Parson's School of Design in New York and the Minneapolis College of Art and Design, loves to work with fabric and designs to express her creativity.

She has spent years working with costume and fashion design at a number of places, including the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis, before moving to Cloquet, where she is presently the chair of the art department at Fond du Lac Tribal and Community College.

Her eclectic career has spanned everything from studying in Paris, France, to a summer teaching in a fashion school in Hirosake City, Japan. She was assistant designer for Prince's film "Purple Rain," and has designed costumes for stage productions and videos throughout the Midwest.

But this exhibit tells another story.

It's a tale of culture and view that has always been a part of her life -- her Ojibwe heritage.

"It's self-directed, really, in that regard," Holmes said. "There is a sort of spirit direction that I'm following."

In this case, the direction focuses on tribal connections and how the world of the past connects with the present.


Her exhibit includes a variety of masks, for example, both papier-mache and birchbark, crafted to tell a story of a people and their past. She has also crafted a variety of jewelry and dream catchers, made with natural stones and objects, which tell the tale as well.

She also uses her art to show relationships her people have with the Western world.

Sometimes these connections are humorous. One piece, for example, is called "Take-out Boxes." The small birchbark boxes are fabricated in the same shape one can find at Chinese restaurants, complete with metal handles. But these boxes have both wild rice and white rice scattered around them.

"The birchbark take-out boxes are definitely a cross cultural aspect of things," she said. "I explore human diversity or human perversity. I feel like what I'm doing is nothing more than holding up a mirror for the viewer."

Her life-size statues call to the viewer in another way.

They almost have an energy and presence of their own, peering into the past and the future with inward-turning eyes.

And they can't be ignored. "You can't just walk away from them," Holmes said. Instead, the figures become like witnesses to the Ojibwe culture and its presence in the world today.

"There's a sense of perseverance, adaptability and survival," she said. "I made them to be interactive."

The three figures are standing around a display of bones, witnesses, in a way, to the Native American past, she said.

"I'd like to bring them to the Smithsonian and gather them around the bones there," she said.

Holmes is also exhibiting a ghost dance shirt she made. Ghost dance shirts were originally developed by the Sioux to protect warriors in the 1890s. This a modern version, she said. "It's worn to protect you when you go out in general society."

Holmes' exhibit is the first of a series of exhibits at the Tweed Museum Store, which is featuring an artist every month.

The pieces will be on display through the end of May.

Joan Farnam is the Budgeteer arts and entertainment editor and can be reached by e-mail at or by phone at 723-1207.