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Husband and wife artist team say volunteering gives back

WHITE BEAR LAKE, Minn. – Doug and Rachel Limon are Native American artists. He does bead work and she makes pottery, jewelry, paints and is a photographer. Their lives crossed paths inside her father’s photography studio because of their shared interest in a traditional Native American symbol, the turtle.

A few years later their son, Gavino, was born with a birthmark in the shape of a turtle on his cheek.

Doug spent 18 years volunteering as a basketball coach and when he gave that up two years ago began looking for another way to give back to the community he has grown to love. The Collection in Focus Guide Program with the Minneapolis Institute of Arts is a volunteer opportunity for adults who have other commitments but have time in the evening or on weekends to share the museum’s art collections with others by training to become a guide.

After going through a vigorous application and interview process, the Limon’s and 15 others were chosen out of an applicant pool of about 100 people. The selected group of new guides attended training on Thursday evenings and participated in two Saturday workshops. The Limon’s trained in the collections of the Arts of Africa and the Americas and will be the first husband and wife team to work together giving guided tours of the Native American galleries.

“I think it is important to volunteer and that is why we became involved with this project,” Doug said. “I thought this would be a good opportunity for us to give back to the community and also give a Native American perspective on the Native American collection. I have found that when I volunteer my time I end up getting more out of it than what I put into it. Being a volunteer at the museum has already paid back for me; I have learned so much that I would not otherwise have been exposed to.”

Rachael Limon’s turtle pottery bowl.

Each time CIF guide training is offered a different area of the MIA collection is focused on. Past trainings have included the arts of Africa, China, Japan and Korea, South and Southeast Asia and the Pacific Islands. This was the first time since 2001 that training was offered in Native American arts.

After completing their training, the guides volunteer for a minimum of 24 hours during a one-year commitment. Over 65 percent of the guides who have been involved in the program now have more than five years of volunteer service behind them.

In addition to taking people on tours of the Native American gallery, the Limon’s also work with the hands-on Art Cart, which has 65 pieces of art that people can pick up and examine. “The Art Cart allows people to feel and get close to the art,” Rachel said. “There are pieces from north, south and central America that gives them an idea of the different kinds of art forms from those areas.”

Doug is an enrolled member of the Oneida Nation of Wisconsin and also has ties to the Leech Lake Ojibway Tribe. Rachel has Native American ancestry and is currently in the process of tracing her family’s lineage.

The museum’s Native American galleries offer examples of high quality art such as the 3,000-year-old Olmec jade mask, a 19th century Sun Mask from the Northwest Coast, and a monumental pipe in the form of a bound prisoner, made in the southeastern U.S. around 1200. Other masterworks include gold earspools from the ancient Andes and a beaded man’s shoulder pouch made in Minnesota in the early 1800s.

“People like Doug and Rachel who get involved because they themselves are practicing artists already have a casual relationship with the museum and this opportunity involves them in a deeper way,” said Amanda Thompson Rundahl, associate educator for the CIF Guide Program. “They are out in their own social and professional circles telling their friends and associates about what they are doing at the museum. By engaging a number of volunteers from our diverse communities who then invite their family, friends and associates to the museum they are helping to build that sense of community that we are trying to establish here.”

Since the program began 10 years ago, there are now 100 people who volunteer their evening and weekend hours as CIF tour guides. Almost one-quarter of the guides trained for the Americas galleries are of Native heritage with tribal affiliations including St. Croix Chippewa, Winnebago/Creek/Seminole, Lac du Flambeau Anishinaabe, White Earth Chippewa, Choctaw/Pawnee and Lenape/Peigan.

“We are building long term relationships with people who are living and working in our community and have something to add to the conversation in the museum. They help to bring a new perspective to the collections other than the institutional one the museum projects,” Rundahl said.

Both the Limons are award-winning artists. Rachel’s work focuses on the beauty and intrigue of nature – people, animals, plants and sea life. Doug’s work is an expression of the spirituality of ancient traditions and a culture that has survived more than 1,000 years. In addition, they also offer traditional greeting cards sold under their business name, Indian Country Expressions.

An exhibit consisting of 110 of the most outstanding works of art produced by Native American cultures will be on display at the museum Oct. 24 – Jan. 9, 2011. The exhibition is from the Thaw Collection of North American Indian art. The Thaw Collection is organized by the Fenimore Art Museum in Cooperstown, N.Y. On the opening day of the collection, Eva Fognell, the curator of the Eugene and Clare Thaw Collection at the Fenimore Art Museum will give an overview of the exhibition. To reserve tickets for the Thaw Collection, or for information about the exhibit, call (612) 870-6323.

For more information about Doug and Rachel Limon, or to view their art work, visit www.mnartists.org/Limon2 for Doug and www.mnartists.org/Rachel_Limon for Rachel. To see the cards they offer through their Native American greeting card company visit www.indiancountryexpressions.com.