Aquinnah Cultural Center makes book on history
"We are Wampanoag, 'people of the first light,' we have inhabited the island of Noepe for over 10 thousand years. We continue to honor and celebrate Creation through our ceremonies, through our songs and dance, and through our arts." With these words, the creators of a new 24-page full-color booklet, published by the Aquinnah Cultural Center (ACC), introduce their people and their history, their art and their culture. In "Wampanoag 'people of the first light,'" readers will learn about the origins of the word Noepe, the first name for the Island, Cranberry Day, the mythical hero Moshup, and the art of "twinning."
"The book has been an afterthought for awhile," said author Jannette Vanderhoop, program director for the ACC. "Educators and other people have been saying that there needs to be one, and I think the people have been looking forward to it for awhile. The cultural center has had grant money in place to create this project for awhile, so it has been something that's been expected but just needed to have a driving force behind it."
Housed in the former Vanderhoop homestead on Aquinnah Circle, the ACC houses personal items from tribal families along with Wampanoag artifacts and archival documents and photographs.
Included in the book are profiles of many current tribal members who dedicate themselves to preserving ancient artistic and cultural traditions. "The board of directors for the cultural center brainstormed ideas of what they'd like to see," said Ms. Vanderhoop. "They specifically wanted to support native artists."
In the section about the native art, the book, which is rich with both historic and recent pictures, includes short biographies, and explanations of the craft of "twinning" baskets and pouches. The descriptions of jewelry include wampum shells, stones, copper designs, and more. Some of the featured artists are Linda Coombs, Tobias Vanderhoop, and three generations of the Widdiss family - Gladys, Donald, and Jason.
Ms. Coombs is expert at the twined weaving method of making baskets. Her work is inspired by 17th-century techniques, materials, colors, and design elements, but she also incorporates modern materials.
Mr. Vanderhoop first learned in 1997 to weave upside down and backward, a traditional technique, creating baskets of all sizes for special occasions. Some of his baskets take a week or more to create. He is also a champion dancer and drummer.
Gladys Widdiss learned the art of pinched pottery from her mother some 70 years ago. Formed by hand, the delicate pieces are formed by hand and never fired. In making their wampum jewelry Donald and Jason Widdiss are carrying on a "family tradition of using art as an expression of continuity and connection."
Ms. Vanderhoop said the booklet is not intended to be read like a catalog, but to be used to tell an interesting story as well as to introduce various tribal artists.
It was not an easy or simple task. "The making of the book was like trying to cram 20 books into one. There have been whole novels created on the Wampanoags, and there are numerous books that you could write on different subjects," Ms. Vanderhoop explained. "There have been whole books written on the arts, or whole books written on the culture, or the people, so we had to figure out which aspects we could include in 24 pages."
"Part of the process in creating the book was talking with some of the tribal members. Tribal artists really create art because it's in their history or in their community, in their being as a person and where they come from," said Ms. Vanderhoop said. She says almost everything they wanted to include in the book had to first be submitted to members in the tribe for approval.
"I also had to interview all of the artists. But it was more like a conversation extract," Ms. Vanderhoop said. "By talking to them you really got the essence of why they create their art."
Though chapters of the tribe are spread through Southeastern Massachusetts and Eastern Rhode Island, the book focuses solely on the Martha's Vineyard Wampanoags.
"I used a lot of archival resources that we have here at the cultural center, and that's where I got most of the documents and the photos, but I also have a good knowledge engrained in me," said Ms. Vanderhoop. "Nan Doty helped with the storyboard and helped shuffle ideas around. A lot of the credit also goes to the board of directors because they were really the ones who had a vision and really helped with the editing and got the book to the point where it was accepted into the [tribal] community," said Ms. Vanderhoop. "We really just hope to represent our people in a good way and give something back to be proud of."
"Wampanoag, people of the first light," is available in gift shops at The Gay Head Cliffs in Aquinnah, Bunch of Grapes Bookstore, and sold at the ACC Museum for $10. Proceeds help support the museum.
Caitlyn Clark is a senior at the regional high school and a summer intern at The Times.