From These Hands: Fiber Art and Poetry by Gwen Westerman Opens at Hillstrom Museum of Art

Running from Feb. 15 through April 18, the exhibit highlights the quilt art that celebrates the artist's Dakota ancestors.
Posted on February 15th, 2021 by

The title piece of the exhibit, "From These Hands" features tracings of the hands of artist Gwen Westerman's grandmother and mother.

Opening Monday February 15 at Gustavus Adolphus College’s Hillstrom Museum of Art, From These Hands: Fiber Art and Poetry by Gwen Westerman, features the work of Dakota scholar, artist, and poet Gwen Westerman. The exhibit will be on display through April 18, 2021.

The exhibit is comprised of hand-made quilts and accompanying poems. Quilt-making has been a part of Westerman’s family traditions going back at least seven generations, including her daughter. “My grandma would never have called herself an ‘artist,’ and yet her work is hanging in the Hillstrom as evidence of her influence on me as a person and as an artist,” Westerman says. “The addition of my poetry alongside my quilts brings together both forms of my piecing and layering processes in words and fabric.”

The title piece, “From These Hands,” was created from tracings of her grandmother’s and mother’s hands. “That idea of hand work—cutting, sewing, quilting—then expanded to include my poetry, also ’hand’ work that involves cutting, piecing, ’sewing,’ and layering words much like a process of quilting. Both involve focus on small pieces and finding a rhythm as they put together to create something larger,” Westerman says.

Westerman is a fiber artist and poet from southern Minnesota, like her Dakota ancestors. She is currently a professor of English at Minnesota State University, Mankato, and a three-time recipient of an Artist Initiative Grant from the Minnesota State Arts Board. Her quilts have won awards at the Northern Plains Indian Art Market in Sioux falls, the Eiteljorg Indian Art Market in Indianapolis, and the Heard Museum Guild Indian Art Fair & Market in Phoenix. Westerman also co-authored Mni Sota Makoce: The Land of the Dakota which won a 2013 Minnesota Book Award.

This exhibit is important not only because of the value and appeal of Gwen Westerman’s work, but also because Gustavus is located in territory that has been inhabited by the Dakota for many centuries, and acknowledging that fact is important,” museum director Don Myers ’83 says. “The exhibit draws attention to our pre-Gustavus heritage.”

Westerman’s work is in the permanent collections of Red Cloud Heritage Center Museum in Pine Ridge, the University Art Galleries at the University of South Dakota, the Great Plains Art Museum in Lincoln, Nebraska, and the Minnesota Historical Society in St. Paul. Pieces from the Minnesota Historical Society and Heritage Center collections are included in this exhibit. Westerman has previously collaborated with Hillstrom as co-curator and artistic contributor on the 2012-2013 exhibition Hena Uŋkiksuyapi: In Commemoration of the Dakota Mass Execution of 1862.

“Quilts tell stories. Quilts made in large automated textile factories in Asia or hand-quilted in India for consumers in the west tell stories of an immense labor market that supports subsistence living for large numbers of people. Quilts found in antique or resale shops lovingly made by someone now forgotten have often lost their families and stories. Then there are quilts that are not made for beds but as art with a specific message. Ultimately, there is a comfort associated with a quilt that people want to feel, to touch,” Westerman says.

From These Hands is open to students and employees Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. While the general public is not allowed on campus currently, those who want to visit the museum can email hillstrom@gustavus.edu to make an appointment. The process typically takes two days. A fully-illustrated brochure is available at the Museum and in pdf form on the Museum website. A video walk-through tour of the exhibit will also be available on the Museum website. Please check the Hillstrom website for the most current information, as restrictions and hours may change as the semester progresses.

 

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