I feel like I won the Native art lottery," says Sara Agaton Howes, Anishinaabe from the Fond du Lac Reservation in Minnesota. Howes' sense of elation these days comes from her affiliation with Inspired Natives the exciting venture by artist/entrepreneur Louie Gong, Nooksack.
Inspired Natives is about helping talented artists and craftspeople bring their work to consumers with efficiency, for fair compensation, and without sacrificing their artistic principles. It's also, on a more theoretical level, about combating the cultural appropriation practiced by national chain retailers that carry goods "inspired" by Native aesthetics. Gong hopes to level the playing field for the artists he hand-picks by providing them with training, and the resources and structure of his own Eighth Generation label.
“I see the artists as partner,” Gong says. “They are capable of anything and hungry for ways to make their cultural art more sustainable. The challenge is that the business experience and capital needed to get something started is largely absent in our communities.”
“Our community deserves to do more than survive," says Howes. "We can thrive. I'm on the edge of my seat for the future.”
How is just the second artist Gong has taken on; the first is Michelle Lowden, Pueblo Acoma.
Here is a selection of the pieces Howes is producing for Inspired Natives with 8th Generation; the recurring motif, a floral design based on her traditional beadwork, is called "heart berry."
Heart Berry earrings, red on blue, by Sarah Agaton Howes for Inspired Natives.
Limited-edition Heart Berry Galaxy S5 phone case by Sarah Agaton Howes for Inspired Natives,
'Thrive' t-shirt by Sarah Agaton Howes for Inspired Natives
Heart Berry Gradient case for iPhone by Sarah Agaton Howes for Inspired Natives