The Influence of Woodland Art



To understand the influence of Woodland art, it's worthwhile noting that long before Europeans arrived on the shores of North America, First Nations people, for one reason or another, faced cultural catastrophes and, interestingly, it was sometimes artistic activity that rode to the rescue!

For example, anthropologists tell us that there have been three major bursts of artistic commotion within the prehistoric Eastern Woodlands culture. The first took place around 1000BC, the second between 300 BC and AD 300, and the third from AD 1000 to AD 1400. And just so you can add the information to your ever expanding fund of knowledge, the artistic and cultural labels put to these periods are, respectively, Adena, Hopewell and the Southern Ceremonial Complex.

If you dug (literally) into the pre-history of these groups you'd discover that the artistic and ritual bustle that took place was in response to cultural crisis...not just setbacks, but all-out cultural calamity.

Influence of Woodland Art in Prehistoric Times

Anthropologists have recognized that the increased artistic activity has been part of the 'revitalization' of culture under extreme social and economic stress...sort of the same conditions that twentieth century Ojibwa culture faced at the time the new Woodland School was born.

In prehistoric times the crises may have been triggered by changes in climate that resulted in severe challenges to the traditional means of livelihood. In contemporary times the stress has come from legislated restrictions and acculturalization.

The interpretation that follows represents a combination of A.J. Wallace's definition of revitalization and A. Trevelyan's (Gettysburg College, PA) analysis of archaeological data from pre-contact eastern North America.

In prehistoric times, cultural revitalization in response to crises was always initiated by individuals and those leaders developed a circle of disciples who spread the good word, so to speak.

Influence of Woodland Art in the Twenty First Century

The example in today's world of the influence of Woodland Art is Norval Morrisseau. He came to understand that the only way his 'Great Ojibwa' culture could survive was to come out of hiding and, instead, stand tall in the face of one and all...including the Ojibwa themselves.

In ancient times, leaders attempting to save their families and friends from cultural crisis, found that they had developed a devoted circle of disciples who participated in the dissemination of ideas associated with the revitalization movement.

In the twentieth century, although it was Morrisseau who broke the taboo of publicizing the religious foundations of Ojibwa culture, other First Nations' artists stepped up to the plate and made their own contributions. The Indian Professional Artists' Association was one example and another was the personal mentoring some of the new centurians offered young Ojibwa men and women.

In prehistoric cultural revitalization, a process of reconciliation was also important to the long term stability of the new ideas. That is, the message inherent in the art was that there had to be a way to reconcile the old ways with the new realities. And because friction between neighbouing populations can be indicative of bigger problems that might affect entire regions, an important aspect of revitalization and the associated art activities involved formal and symbolic accommodation to make the message palatable (and understandable) to all...even traditional enemies.The present day example is that the new Woodland Art combines traditional legends and myths with the reality that, today, First Nations' culture exists within a mainstream milieu and artists include/use those parts of the Euro-American culture that enable their story to be heard. (Web sites for example!)

Trevelyan points out though, that in ancient times art was used "to bridge, reconcile, re-educate and re-orient fellow native groups, however hostile. Today the challenge is to bridge the gap between entirely different cultures - First Nations people and Euro-Americans."





You could return to re-read the information about Woodland Art...

Yet now might be a good time to check out some of the myths and legends of the Ojibwa...

Keep the influence of Woodland Art in mind when you read about these Woodland artists...

If you haven't done so already, you might like to find out who's telling these stories...

Or you could read (possibly again) about the voice from the wilderness...