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Clay, Creativity, and an Introduction to Potawatomi Culture

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  • Current: Clay, Creativity, and an Introduction to Potawatomi Culture

When Laura Alvarado, executive director for the Indiana Blind Children’s Foundation, reached out to the Eiteljorg a couple years ago with an idea to improve accessibility at Indianapolis arts organizations, the museum jumped at the opportunity to become a partner. After discussing many options for collaboration, together the museum and foundation decided that over the course of three years, the museum would take one artist to the Indiana School for the Blind and Visually Impaired (ISBVI) to work with a group of students for a week at a time. Not knowing at all what to expect, the Eiteljorg lined up sighted ceramic and mixed media artist Jason Wesaw, ordered some clay, and headed out. Jason has worked with various groups during his previous residencies and back home in Michigan, however, Jason had never worked with students who are blind or visually impaired.

collage of three photos featuring students working with an artist on clay projects in an art classroom at school.

“Some of the most rewarding work I’ve ever done as an artist.” – Jason Wesaw (artist in residence)

After arriving at ISBVI, checking in, hauling 150 pounds of clay to the art room, and meeting the 14 students we would be working with, any fears we may have harbored were immediately put to rest. Jason spoke about his Potawatomi culture, passed around his hand drum for students to try, then got to work. The students were instantly captivated. Some had very limited experience working with clay and others had none at all. Jason was adamant that the students be involved in all aspects of the project, so he put student to work wedging the clay (releasing air bubbles), then rolling the clay out on a slab roller. After that, students used a template to cut tiles. Encouraged to incorporate their own designs and interests onto their tiles, students added sports teams, initials, music, birds, and even a My Little Pony. The class sessions that followed involved glazing tiles and constructing ceramic cones for a collaborative project. Jason also took some time to work with students on an electric wheel – a new acquisition for the art room and something none of the students had ever done before. The excitement was palpable!

“Our hearts are full as well! Thank you so very much for working with us at ISBVI.  The week was filled with countless beautiful memories.” – Leslie Walsh (Art Teacher, Indiana School for the Blind and Visually Impaired)

It was wonderful getting to know the students and seeing them shine through Jason’s project and through art in general. One particularly talented student gave Jason a portrait she had created called Portrait of the Artist. Jason proudly hung the artwork in his art studio at the museum, and reciprocated with an original oil pastel drawing for the student. Tears of joy may have been shed by several witnesses to these events. It was such a moving and memorable experience for all involved.

“At the core, the project was really about building relationships through art. It was extremely gratifying to work with Jason and ISBVI students, and to see firsthand the incredible connections forged through this experience.” – Alisa Nordholt-Dean (Vice President of Public Programs and Education, Eiteljorg Museum of American Indians and Western Art)

Getting to work with ISBVI students and help unlock their artistic talent and creative expression was a very rewarding experience for Eiteljorg Museum artists in residence. The museum is grateful to Jason Wesaw -- and to a more recent artist in residence, Michael Naranjo (Santa Clara Pueblo) -- for sharing artistic gifts from a Native American perspective with the ISBVI students. The partnership between the Indiana Blind Children’s Foundation and the Eiteljorg Museum underscores the importance of accessibility and inclusion in art.

An excerpt from the Eiteljorg Museum of American Indians and Western Art reflecting on an artist residency held Sept. 17 – 20, 2019 at the Indiana School for the Blind and Visually Impaired (ISBVI) with artist Jason Wesaw (Pokagon Band Potawatomi).

Published March 12, 2021