Raised in the woodlands of northern lower Michigan, Monica Jo Raphael comes from a long line of woodland quill artists and feels as if she’s having a dialogue with her ancestors when creating her interpretation of an art that predates European contact and the introduction of glass seed beads. Spending most of her life in the village of Peshawbestown on the Grand Traverse Band Reservation, she learned the traditional woodland art form of quill and birch bark box making. She now makes her home in the foothills of the Wichita Mountains in southwestern Oklahoma.
Quickly mastering both the woodland flora and fauna designs for which her family was known, Raphael has excelled in creating even more complex designs while using traditional materials and techniques along with bright modern colors to create a modern twist to a timeless artform. Her award-winning work is quickly becoming known all over the world for its clear intention to craftsmanship, unwavering dedication to patience, and use of quality materials. Raphael’s work was recently added to the collections of the Smithsonian National Museum of American Indian and the Eiteljorg Museum of American Indians and Western Art.
For her LIFT project, Raphael will teach quill work to thirty-six people from three Oklahoma Anishinaabe tribes who were removed to Oklahoma as a result of the Removal Act of 1830. She will also complete a six-week artist in residence workshop with a dozen youth, and an adult class with each participating tribe. She will also create new pieces of her own, and will travel to her homelands to harvest materials for herself and the classes. The project will culminate with an exhibition titled Maada’ookii, translated as “sharing from mentor to mentee”.
The passing of knowledge from generation to generation from community member to community member helps to makes indigenous communities strong and resilient. The passing of one’s knowledge by sharing Creator given talents perpetuates generosity.
—Monica Jo Raphael (Anishinaabe-Sicangu Lakota)