The theme of Mother and Child has appeared in several of my works going back to the mid-1980s to present day. One of the main influences has been my wife, Nan. At one time she was a lay midwife and brought many babies into the world. From her, I gained a knowledge of mothers and babies. Additionally, our four children were born at home and provided me with a deeper level of understanding about motherhood and birth.
Originally, the tentative title for this work was Madonna miinawaa Oshkabinoozjinh (Madonna and Child). Religious iconography was obviously an influence. The hood worn by the mother contrasts with the shrouds and veils worn by women in religious iconography. Hoods were a basic part of clothing among the Ojibwe. Before the advent of beads, hoods were often embellished with designs made with dyed porcupine quills or moose hair. When beads became available in the early to mid-1800s, the quantity was limited. Their use was limited to outlining design patterns. By the 1860s-1870s, beads became more widely available and fully beaded floral motifs appeared on clothing including hoods.
Once I began the painting, it began to go through changes in its meaning. It went from a Native Madonna and Child to an Ojibwe origin theme.
In Ojibwe culture, there are several origin stories focusing on relationships with Anang-Aki (the Star World). According to the story of Aashkikwe, Aki (Earth) took the shape of women, beginning first with Aashkikwe. Aashkikwe means first or new woman. Aashkikwe falls in love with the beauty of Waabanoong, the morning star. Waabanoong changes into Aashki’inini, first or new man. They marry and Aashkikwe consents to live at his home in the Sky World. There is one condition. Aashkikwe must never look to gaze upon her home, Aki (Earth).
One day, Aashkikwe, pregnant with child, is out gathering plants. She dug so many plants that she made a hole in the sky. She gazed through the hole and saw her home. As a result, she was sent back to Aki. As she fell from the sky, waabiziig (swans) and nikaag (geese) caught her and lowered her to Aki.
This, of course, is not the full story. The story can only be told on certain occasions. But the portions that I’ve recounted here provide context to the painting.
The night skies in the painting feature the constellation Bagone’giizhig, Hole in the Sky. In the Greek constellation system, the star cluster is called the Pleiades. In Ojibwe star knowledge, Bagone’giizhig is consider to be a spiritual doorway. The Ojibwe believe that human beings came from the stars. Bagone’giizhig is the point of entry and return. The Ojibwe constellation system existed before the coming of White people. Ojibwe constellations recounted origin stories and connections to the star world. Their positions provided information to seasonal changes. When Bagone’giizhig appeared overhead in Dagwaagin (Fall), Ojibwe knew it was time to prepare their winter camps.
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