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Exhibition Opening Commemorates National American Indian Heritage Month

MSU Museum and Ziibiwing Center Collaborate to Present Native Stars Exhibition

The MSU Museum is pleased to support the exhibition Native Stars: Indigenous Quilts of Honor and Caring now on view at the Ziibiwing Center of Anishinabe Culture & Lifeways in Mt. Pleasant, Michigan. The exhibition draws from 17 Indigenous quilts housed within the collection of the MSU Museum. Native Stars opened on November 11, during the federally designated National American Indian Heritage Month, and is on display through March 15, 2023.Native Stars: Indigenous Quilts of Honor and Caring

In Indigenous American culture, the Morning Star, the last and brightest star in the eastern horizon before dawn, represents the link between the living and ancestors, the bridge between earth and sky that spirits can travel. Star designs were often used in many indigenous arts, including on buffalo hides, porcupine quillwork, beadwork, and dance regalia.

As early as the 1820s Native peoples began using steel needles and purchased cloth to make quilts. Today, two hundred years later, quiltmaking has become a strong art form within many Native communities. Quilts are used to keep a home or person warm, for making baby swinging cradles, as an expression of identity, as a means of coping with grief or health issues, and, very often, to honor someone for their work on behalf of others.

Michigan State University has one of the largest and most diverse collection of Indigenous quilts in the world. The collection was built primarily through a collaborative project with the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian and working with individual quilt artists, museums, and organizations across the U.S. and Canada.

Curators for the exhibition include Marsha MacDowell, Ph.D., Curator of Folk Art and Quilts Studies, and Lynne Swanson, Cultural Collections Manager, both of MSU Museum. Additional members of the curatorial team include James Chippewa, William Johnson, Ellie Van Horn, Glenna Jenkins, Colleen Wagner, Becky Pamp-Ettinger, and Sara A. Martin, all representing Ziibiwing Cultural Center, and C. Kurt Dewhurst, Ph.D., MSU Museum Curator of Folklife and Cultural Heritage.

“This collaboration with the Ziibiwing Center was a great opportunity to continue to activate use of our extraordinary Indigenous quilt collection. This particular selection of quilts is the first time in the United States that Star quilts from artists from different tribes and First Nations have been shown together. The selection of quilts was done by members of the In Stitches quilters who are affiliated with Ziibiwing. MSU student James Chippewa, an enrolled member of the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians, was instrumental in editing text and designing the installation,” remarked Marsha MacDowell.

The Ziibiwing Center of Anishinabe Culture & Lifeways, which opened in 2004, is a museum and cultural center built to share the history of the Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe of Michigan with the rest of the world. Financial support for this exhibition was provided by the Michigan Traditional Arts Program, MSU, and in-kind support from the Michigan State University Museum, In Stitches Quilting Group, and the Ziibiwing Center.