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Community Spotlight: Monica Alexander

Jun 28, 2018

Monica Alexander

Gwe! Greetings!
My name is Monica Alexander. I was born in Waterville, Me, and brought up in Western Massachusetts where I reside with my husband of 34 years and one very spoiled dog. I am a self-taught graphic artist and craftsperson; my mediums are pencil, acrylics, beads, leather, cloth, moose hair and porcupine quills. I have sold my work at various pow-wows in New England for the past 30 years; I have exhibited at various art shows in both Massachusetts and Rhode Island, and at the Institute for American Indian Studies in Washington, CT, and at the Mt. Kearsarge Indian Museum in Warner, NH. I specialize in Northeastern Woodland art in the way of graphics, beaded items, bags, and quilled jewelry. But my journey with the latter medium really began just a few years ago, due to the encouragement of my very dear friend and fellow artisan, Rhonda Besaw. One day, Rhonda found a vintage quilled and birch bark box. “See if you can restore this,” Rhonda said. Now my experience with porcupine quills was limited to earrings, chokers and a few, very simple items, but nothing in comparison to what my friend was present ing to me now. Over the years, I had seen old photos of this style of quilling, a method referred to as “bark insertion.” They were breathtaking pieces of art, from nesting boxes to cradles to full-size dining room chairs, if you can visual that! Real works of art, involving hundreds of hours of labor and covered in hundreds, if not thousands, of quills in a rainbow of colors and in designs ranging from simple flo rals to highly-complicated geometrics of mind-boggling complexities. I could only shake my head and dream of doing such work! But here was my friend insisting I could do this saying, “This little box is begging to be brought back to life.” So, I tried my hand at it, holding my breath the whole time, and learning as I went. A few years have gone by since that day and that one little box, but the lessons continue. Because of this box, I have progressed to ones of my own, albeit not quite as “elegant” or as “perfect”, as the one I like to call my “inspiration,” but as I mentioned, the lessons continue …

Stunning examples of Monica’s work.

In between I still vend at pow-wows and participate at art shows. My ancestry is Mi’Kmaq, and my work reflects the art and history of my ancestor’s woodland home. I wear traditional, post-contact Mi’Kmaq regalia at pow-wows, a style dating to the mid-to-late 1700’s and reflecting several hundred years of European (French) influence. This is a unique style of clothing, made of cloth and elaborately beaded, the most eye-catching accessory of which is the peaked beaded hood called, “Kinijkei” in Mi’Kmaq and translating to “peaked cap.” I first wore this style of regalia back in 2000, and as was expected, no one had ever seen this, especially the hood, before. Sadly, and to this day, most of the non-Native public still thinks all “Indians” look alike and all rode Pintos, chased buffalo and lived in tipis. Some even believe they are no “Indians” East of the Mississippi or even living in the Northeast. Together with a small group of friends, we are endeavoring to change this attitude. There is much Native history here, the art, and the lifeways still present, all of which deserving of attention. For the past few years, my friend Rhonda Besaw, a master bead worker of enormous talents, and I have shared the concept of the peaked beaded cap with others, especially with Natives of the same ancestry. “Everyone wants to be Western, but no one wants to be Northern,” was the phrase we both often heard and about the Western-style of clothing most Native were wearing at pow-wows, a style not reflective of this area. We’re trying to change that with beading, clothing and other arts which reflect the history and culture of the indigenous Peoples of the Northeast. It seems to be catching on, as we are seeing not only more Northeastern clothing, but beautifully-beaded peaked caps, too, and that is always a thrill! We are happy with this progress! Welalin, Msit Nokmaq, (Thank You, All My Relations) Monica Alexander

We are proud to have Monika as a part of our community!  Please check out her absolutely incredible work here.