Maria Watt is a Native American artist who draws inspiration from Indigenous traditions. Her multi-media creations echo the past yet resonate with the present.  Such ingenious dexterity seeds communal activism, allowing the storyteller to weave new respect for Native American history into a more accurate representation of American culture.

By molding the ordinary into something extraordinary Watt’s genius finds the senses of the human experience. Her art fuses stories of humanity to inhumanities. Watt’s work is so powerful she has earned the recognition of the Ford Foundation, The Harpo Foundation and the Joan Mitchell Foundation. Creations of the Yale graduate are included at the Crystal Bridges Museum, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of American Art and others.

In 2023, The Peabody Essex Museum awarded Watt, a member of Seneca Nation of Indians, the PEM Prize for her work exploring creativity and community engagement. The Museum commissioned two pieces by the artist to engage guests of all ages. Shimmering forms are presently suspended from the vaulting ceiling in the Museum’s atrium. Light capturing, light filled tin-cones jingle when stirred by spirits or a visitor’s touch. The amorphous shape is cloud-like, dynamic, and inspiring.

Jingle cones

Now though June 7th the sculptures that appear lighter than air will invite interaction.  Museum visitors are encouraged to fasten 2 rolled tin-tops together, then thread the jingles to an armature.

Guests at PEM tie Native American traditions to American history with Maria Watt’s communal conversion starter ” Sky Dances Light” 5/9/24

The simple, cool, prettiness of the creation is part of an evolving conversational tradition observed in some pow-wow dances. These jingling cones echo the complex story of strength, feminism and spirituality within the Ojibwa community.

It was tradition for Ojibwa women to fashion the lids of government supplied tobacco cans into cone-shaped decorations. Rows of the silver cones were fastened to create Jingle Dance Dresses. Folklore says, the tone of the tin-cones hold medicinal properties. One night, a member of the Tribe with a sick granddaughter dreamed the child would be healed from the influenza pandemic of 1918-1919 if women would dance around the little girl in Jingle Dresses. It’s believed to have saved the child. The curative custom traveled between communities and has become part of some pow-wow celebrations.

PEM invites you to experience the mystical installation that is representational of a deep commitment to connecting communities.The completed installation will be unveiled during the 16th annual Salem Arts Festival on Saturday June 8th, 2024. At the Festival, Maria Watt will explain her work and Acosia Red Elk, a world champion dancer, will perform a Jingle Dance. The celebration is free and open to the public.








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