With the reappearance of art courses and now the director’s seat filled at the Haskell Cultural Center and Museum, art education has come full circle at Haskell Indian Nations University in Lawrence, Kansas.
It is the first time in seven years that students have been offered a painting class, and the first time in three years since they have studied ceramics.
Jancita Warrington stands in the reception window at the cultural center while two interns talk with a visitor. Warrington was recently hired as the new director and has already put together some new exhibits.
Warrington knows that for many students, the Haskell Cultural Center and Museum is a place where tourists look at pictures about Haskell history. Warrington wants to set the record straight.
“I want students to understand there really is a difference between museum and cultural center,” she said. “A museum takes something that’s dead in the past and preserves it to study later… A cultural center actually celebrates a living culture of people. It should be the community center of Haskell. That’s why I want the students to get involved.”
Art education has been on the back burner since long-time instructor and Kiowa-Comanche artist, Blanche Wahnee, retired. The art program suffered through several leadership changes over seven years until working artist, Gina Adams, was invited to the university to teach painting and ceramics as part of an art appreciation course.
The next semester, acting dean of humanities, Josh Falleaf, provided Adams with teaching space.
“We’re coming together from all different departments to bring the arts back to all the students here at Haskell,” Falleaf said.
Adams has been happy with the results, and the talent of the students.
“The students come here with a traditional sense of their culture,” Adams said. “I give basic skills like color theory and how to create coil pots and pinch pots. I teach the skills, but then you want to see what the students can bring to it and that’s been really great to see.”
A series of sun plaques by ceramic students is displayed at the Fine Arts Open House.
Two fine arts open houses have been held showcasing the students’ work. Haskell President Dr. Venida Chenault attended both events and supports the return of the arts to Haskell.
“It’s nice to see all the energy and the work that is back in this room,” Chenault said. “It’s been a long time since we’ve had this many folks in here for any kind of show. It’s great and it’s exciting.”
Traditional workshops and cultural classes in beading, moccasin-making and cradle boards are some of the projects on Warrington’s list, as well as traditional feasts.
“Around those tables during those casual times when you are beading or sewing or helping teach others are where your stories come out, where your vitally important information comes out that has to do directly with your identity,” said Warrington.
Warrington discusses a time when tribal people were not allowed to express their culture. They found other avenues of expression that are in some of the designs and textiles on display. Warrington hopes to pass these tribal-cultural art forms on to the next generation of Haskell students.
“To be able to revive the art at Haskell to me is vitally important because the students need to understand that it is a form of expression not just cultural art but many different forms of expression,” said Warrington. “We come from a great people that were based in art. We didn’t define it as it is today, but the same concepts are the same things we’ve used for hundreds of years.”
The center is committed to student engagement and cultural diversity in the programs they hope to provide. Students are encouraged to stop by and visit with Warrington and share their ideas.
Lori Hasselman, Delaware Tribe of Indians of Oklahoma, is a 2015-2016 Native American Journalism Fellow who produced this story for the newsroom immersion program run by the Native American Journalists Association at the National Native Media Conference in Washington, D.C. She is a senior at Haskell Indian Nations University.