(By Sarah Elisabeth Sawyer (Choctaw Nation), Artist in Business Leadership Fellow 2015)
In Sheldon’s Lakota culture, Winter Count images record and preserve the history of passing years. Traditionally spread out across an animal hide, each year is represented by an image, typically one that reflects the most significant event of that year. They are a pictorial accounting of past happenings, serving as a kind of “history book. With his 2019 Cultural Capital fellowship, Sheldon will be working with elders, youth, and other community members to create “Waniyetu Wowapi” (Winter Count) images for the 50th anniversary of the American Indian Community House (AICH) in New York City. The project will preserve the last 50 years of history for urban Indian people in the area. “We’re fortunate to have many of the elders from the past 50 years still with us,” Sheldon says. “Their generosity in sharing their stories and narratives will preserve the integrity of the project.” The AICH 50 Winters project won’t be Sheldon’s first winter count project. He has participated in others (such as the project pictured right) in an effort to build awareness about important stories from the past that can help inform This particular practice is one to which he feels deeply connected. “The hand drawn technique of creating a pattern for the image, painting, cutting of patterns, stretching of leather hide, erection of tipi's, and storytelling while working return me to a world of the grandmothers and grandfathers,” he says. “It's a connection to my father who taught me, and a connection to my elders who've kept the traditions of storytelling.”
Sheldon is welcoming community members to join the 50 Winters project so they can work on it together. Bringing in youth for the project allows them to witness the importance of knowledge keeping as they work to create initial images for the project. Throughout the process, Sheldon is going to be documenting the project through video, capturing not only the details of the process but also the stories behind the images that are representing the last fifty years. The videos Sheldon is producing will be for sharing with the AICH community and beyond through online platforms like YouTube. As a multi-disciplinary artist, Sheldon has often incorporated numerous artistic mediums for a project. Sheldon has learned to make time and space for a wide range art forms, ranging from fashion design to acting, beadwork to filmmaking, traveling installations to traditional instrument design. Through every medium, he is committed to honoring his Indigeneity. Sheldon continues to develop other innovative ways to merge the old with the new, while maintaining the integrity of ancestral knowledge and traditions. "ancestral connection especially when painting on traditional brain tanned hides or smoked hides,” Sheldon says. “At the same time, creating these pictorial images of modern-day events with the soundscapes of cars, planes, boats, skyscrapers, and people of the urban reality in the background, allows participants to revive a tradition their ancestors might have done.” The 50 Winters Count project will not only preserve the past fifty years of urban intertribal Indian life in New York City, but will also give the city’s urban Indian population a way to dream of what images could be created in the next fifty years for future generations to remember.
It is critical that art, culture and ancestral knowledge are passed on from one generation to the next. Through First Peoples Fund’s Cultural Capital Fellowship Program, culture bearers in tribal communities receive financial and technical support to further their important work.
Artists in First Peoples Fund’s Cultural Capital fellowship strengthen the Collective Spirit® -- which manifests self-awareness and a sense of responsibility to sustain the cultural fabric of a community.
Throughout this one-year program, fellows are offered tools, resources and capital to build on their own one-of-a-kind cultural contributions while also uncovering previously unrealized cultural potential.
Fellows will be required to attend a multi-day convening with the other artists and culture bearers selected for their fellowship year.
With over 50 Cultural Capital artist alumni
, grant recipients have access to a large network of artists on the local and national levels. Eligible artists receive individualized technical assistance and professional development guidance, as well as up to $5,000 in working capital funds to offer artists an opportunity to delve deeper into their art – sharing their artistry with all who want to learn.
Visit the website for more information and follow the progress of this project.