133 North Allegheny Street Bellefonte , PA 16823
By Serge Bielanko
A seriously unique collection of art is visiting to our neck of the woods and we probably need to go see it. From far across the land, from the vast sprawling wilds of the Pacific Northwest, Bellefonte is hosting a new exhibit called 'Contemporary Art by Aboriginal Artists of the Pacific Northwest'. Don't let the long name scare you. This isn't some kind of haughty art show designed to make the casual connoisseur feel small and inadequate. No way.
In fact, what any of us who attends the Bellefonte Art Museum for Centre County will discover is precisely what we all hope to discover whenever we throw ourselves at a work of art, be it a novel or a song or a painting on the wall. (Figuratively speaking, of course. Please don't hurl yourself at a van Gogh anytime soon).
And that discovery is this: as Pennsylvanians....as Americans...as human citizens of Earth, we are all so much more connected to our collective past than we ever seem to realize.
See, what this wonderful collection of works from nearly 20 contemporary Aboriginal artists, or First Nation artists as some would say, shows us- above and beyond maybe anything else- is that modern people connecting with their ancestral past is both inspiring and beneficial. Coming from a town like Bellefonte, many of you and your neighbors would already recognize at least the fringes of what I'm talking about here. For this is a town steeped in history. And with people who engage in researching and celebrating that history more often than many towns tend to do. Which, in a roundabout way, sort of indicates that Centre Countians have a taste for uncovering the past, for connecting with those that once walked these very streets...maybe even before there were any streets at all, you know what I'm saying?!?!
"After European contact, the designs, masks, and decorative items of these tribes nearly disappeared," a recent BAM press release explains. "Many aboriginal groups in the Pacific Northwest almost died out. Fortunately, the classic tribal imagery and traditions (carving Totem Poles, House Posts and wooden masks) remained alive in the villages and in the hearts of the people. Modern artists have embraced those inherited images and created works celebrating their cultures. What has emerged is a wonderful resurgence of art by Aboriginal Artists of the Pacific Northwest."
A friendly reminder, because I know you are busy these days. I get it. But history needs our attention now and then, you know? The benefits of years gone by, the blood rush of feasting upon the knowledge of our predecessor's experiences- the good, the bad, and the ugly- is one of the most powerful ways to understand the very plights of our own lives. I'm talking both as individuals struggling to make it in this world unfolding all around us, and as members of that larger collective known as the Human Race, which we are all distinct representatives of, like it or not.
Patricia House, the Executive Director of BAM, knows as much about this stuff as anyone. She's been bringing art from a slew of cultures and lands to the people of Centre County for over a decade now. She understands the mounting importance in this particular day and age of using art to instigate conversation, between people and other people, as well as between individuals and their internal selves.
"The story of ones people, of your origin, values and self are tied to ones history," House reflects."When a culture loses its history, it diminishes and usually is extinguished. It is very sad. However, what is thrilling about the exhibition is this evidence that the aboriginal people of the Pacific Northwest have restored their stories and this has helped them stay connecting to their history."
Or should I say...BAM.
That is it in a cerebral nutshell. You, me, the lady that drives your kids' school bus, the guy scrubbing the floors down at the Sheetz, we are all directly connected to a past so teeming with lessons and knowledge that it all practically begs us to listen just a little closer to the wind. Because the past is telling us the story of our future. It always has been too. Sometimes we just get way to caught up in blaming other people in front of our face to stop and consider the wisdom our unique and shared histories lay before us.
Look. We all know a little bit about Native American history. And perhaps we even know a bit about the Pacific Northwest of Canada where the art in this exhibit hails from. But c'mon, even if we know the definition of aboriginal ("inhabiting or existing in a land from the earliest times or from before the arrival of colonists; indigenous"), don't we still have so much more to learn about yet?
I think we do. I think the tale the past is telling, it never really ends. And the more we listen....the more we go out of our way to hit up museums and films and books trying to tell that tale, the more we learn. About them. And about us.
Because that's the way this all works.
"I know that stories connect us to each other," says the Rev. Carol Thomas Cissel, the settled minister of the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Centre County in State College, PA, and the gracious owner of this entire collection of works. "I love the power, story and imagery in each one of the pieces in my collection. They speak to me, whisper to me and invite me in… in a way that nothing else does. Each one tells a unique tale. I feel as though the stories have been gifted to me, to us…by the artists who created them."
Go see this exhibit.
Take your kids, take your grandmother.
Go out for pizza and coffee and root beer afterwards and talk about this stuff.
You won't be sorry. How could you be?
Contemporary Art by Aboriginal Artists of the Pacific Northwest
Now through Sunday, March 31, 2019
Bellefonte Art Museum
133 North Allegheny Street
Museum hours Friday, Saturday, & Sunday 12;00 - 4:30 p.m.
While at your visit to BAM, head up to the 3rd floor to witness Underground Railroad: A Journey to Freedom exhibit. That permanent feature highlights the escaped slaves who sought safe passage to freedom in the north via a secret network of people who wanted to help abolish slavery altogether.
*This exhibition is supported in part by the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts, a state agency fund-ed by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and the National Endowment for the Arts, a federal agency.
The Bellefonte Art Museum is supported by the Central Pennsylvania Convention & Visitors Bureau. Learn more about the CPCVB by visiting www.visitpennstate.org.
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