Historical Native American artwork highlighted in Maine’s capitol

AUGUSTA – Artwork created to raise awareness of ancient Passamaquoddy rock carvings, possibly dating back as far as 10,000 years, is now on display throughout Maine’s capitol complex.
The Equinox Project, featuring works from 22 women artists, native and nonnative, and more than 30 Passamaquoddy children from Pleasant Point and Indian Township schools, is touring the state to increase awareness of Passamaquoddy culture.
In October of 2006, one of the most sacred and well-documented sites of ancient petroglyphs on the eastern seaboard of the United States was returned to its original peoples, the Passamaquoddy tribe. The site known as “Picture Rocks” lies on the Machias Bay. The rock carvings and peckings date as far back as 3,000 to 5,000 years and its most ancient peckings may be as old as 10,000 years. Believed to be made by shamans, the petroglyphs are positioned in a way that makes them most visible at the fall or spring equinox.
The works visible at the Capitol are only a portion of the collection, which includes paintings, drawings, printmaking, beadwork, basketry, handmade drums, photography, wool felting, poetry, essays, short stories and original musical compositions. Over 100 works have been created through the Equinox Project.
“Starting with a mere idea expressed in conversation last summer, it is thrilling to see the impressive collection of over 100 artworks that have been created through the Equinox Project,” said Stephanie Francis, Passamaquoddy, curator and originator of the exhibition. “It is our hope that this exhibition will make many more people aware of the rich Native American history of Downeast Maine.”
The Equinox Project is an effort to document and interpret the Picture Rocks from the female point of view and that of the Passamaquoddy youth through visual, auditory and tactile works of art.
“Some contend that the tribes had a matriarchal tradition before European influences were felt. We thought it was an appropriate time to seek out women and children to bring their perceptions and impressions of the stories that are told in stone at the more than nine sites on Machias Bay where the petroglyphs can still be seen,” Francis said.
Long before the Europeans ever came to the Americas, Machias Bay was the summer home of the easternmost tribes of what is known today as the Algonquin Nation. Shamans of the tribes pecked images into stone ledges portraying the daily life of hunters and gatherers and inspiration from the Great Spirit. These petroglyphs still survive today, but are eroding due to rising waters, acid rain and pollution. A nonprofit organization, The Maluhsi-Hikon Petroglyph Foundation, was formed to preserve and research the site and to educate the public on the petroglyphs and ancient Passamaquoddy culture. The foundation is now fundraising to build a public educational center to facilitate further study.
The exhibition officially opens on Wednesday, with a Blaine House reception that will feature presentations from artists who are part of the Equinox Project. The exhibit will remain in Maine’s capitol until the end of June as part of the Maine Arts Commission’s “Arts in the Capitol” series. After leaving the capitol it will appear at the Tides Institute in Eastport between September 18 and October 11.
For more information on this and other Arts in the Capitol exhibitions, visit the public art section of www.MaineArts.com.


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