For many Native peoples, the gift of a woolen blanket is a traditional way to honor and recognize those who make important contributions to the community. The blanket of choice is typically a Pendleton, manufactured by the non-Native-owned Pendleton company in Portland, Oregon.
Now, however, consumers can purchase a woolen blanket produced and designed by a Native artist, Sarah Agaton Howes of the Fond du Lac Anishinaabe tribe of Minnesota.
The blanket, named “Renewal,” features Howes’ signature wild rice, strawberries, dogwood and wild plum flower design.
“As Native people, the gifting of a blanket is one of our most gracious gifts. Up to this point, the only wool blankets on the market have been made by non-Native companies with either "Native inspired" designs or with the art of Native artists who are not owners of the company. This means the bulk of the business and financial benefits of Native art has been for non-Native companies,” Howes said.
Howes, a long time moccasin maker and beadwork artist, was recently chosen to participate in the Inspired Natives Project launched by Louie Gong of Nooksack/Chinese/French/Scottish heritage.
The project helps Native artists build business capacity to market and sell their artwork.
Gong, artist, activist and educator, is the founder of Eighth Generation, a Native-owned and operated company based in Seattle.
With Gong’s mentorship, Howes learned about the world of digital design and created a website where she markets her work. In addition to the “Renewal” blanket, House of Howes offers beaded and woodcut earrings, mobile phone cases, totes, greeting cards and clothing.
The Renewal blanket is the launch of a new era in Native art according to Howes.
“This work shows that [Native peoples] can create and share our own stories and art,” she said.