Prairie Ronde Artist Residency finishing 5th season

Colleen Woolpert and Rani Young will have an art show on November 21.

By John Kern

Born of a desire to meld the pleasures of small-town Midwestern living with Vicksburg’s long history of celebrating creativity and the spirit of doing, the Prairie Ronde Artist Residency is nearing the end of its fifth season.

Over that span, Prairie Ronde has hosted over 60 participants from around the world, from places as diverse as Taiwan, the Republic of Georgia, Israel, and all over North America. It’s showcased a range of talents from sculpture and paint to poetry, textiles, and soundscape.

Prairie Ronde is unique in that it is a fully stipended program that asks its residents to focus their creative thinking on the Mill, its surroundings and history, or on Vicksburg.

This season, with the assistance of key partners, the residency has broadened its focus to include more music and events designed to offer increased public visibility. Continuing those efforts will be a large part of the coming year’s focus.

The opening of the Prairie Ronde Artist Gallery, located at the corner of Prairie and Main Street next door to Mackenzies Bakery, created an opportunity for visitors to explore pieces from Prairie Ronde’s permanent collection and special displays. They included a showcase of works created by the 20 participants of an international e-textile symposium and 3-D mapping pieces created by local youth as part of the Kalamazoo County Parks and Recreation MAPEA 2022 summer program. The program was sponsored by the Vicksburg Cultural Arts Center (VCAC) and headed by Kalamazoo artist, Natalya Critchley.

The e-textile workshops were a true departure for Prairie Ronde. Providing logistical support for 20 artists from all over North America challenged the residency team in ways that it had not yet encountered. The medium, a melding of traditional textile techniques with digital and electronic elements required the creation of temporary workspaces and the borrowing of at least two looms from the South County Fiber Arts group. Visiting artists and event organizers loved their experience in Vicksburg and are eager to return.

In November, art fans can attend Double Jinx, an evening exploration of pieces created by recent Prairie Ronde residents Colleen Woolpert and Rani Young, twins who worked together for the first time as collaborators to create a series of Mill-related art. The one-night-only show will occur on Monday, November 21 from 6 to 8:30 p.m. at the gallery on 101 E. Prairie Street.

In addition to hosting artists this year, the residency also worked with Kalamazoo-based muralists, DreamScene Placemaking, and the VCAC to create two small, community-oriented paint-by-number murals, currently located in Liberty Lane West and on the exterior of the Gallery, across from Oswalt Park. The murals enlisted the help of artists of all ages and fostered a true sense of community involvement.

Plans for the coming year include an increased number of public events in and around the gallery so that members of the community can have the opportunity to explore the ideas of professional creatives from around the globe.

For a closer look at the artists and their work, visit their website at prairierondeartistresidency.com or, if you’d like to receive email updates about coming residency events, click on the CONTACT button at the top of that page.

Arts and culture opportunities for everyone

Executive Director Alisha Siebers, Vicksburg Cultural Arts Center

The Vicksburg Cultural Arts Center is growing! In 2022, participation in all of our signature programs increased dramatically.
Last spring, we had a blast judging the 83 submissions to the all-ages Tournament of Writers competition. We read a wide range of stories featuring zombies, space adventures, and encounters with monsters — and that was just from the adult writers! At the end of the Tournament, we published all of the entries in our Small Town Anthology and celebrated our writers with a book-signing party. The Tournament returns a little earlier in 2023: We’ll be accepting entries through our website during the month of February.

We can’t keep up with the demand for youth programming. Our Art of Nature Camps offered at the Vicksburg Outdoor Education Center were bursting at the seams, so we doubled our sessions. At our camps, kids work with experienced artists to try new art forms: silk screening T-shirts, working with clay, collaborating on murals, writing and drawing ‘zines, and painting lilies by the pond. Kids worked with local favorite BenJammin’ to write songs, with Kalamazoo Glass Arts to design suncatchers, and with Wellspring Dancers to learn some new moves. These camps are great opportunities for our local kids, especially for those who might find going all the way to Kalamazoo a challenge. Thanks to the kind hearts of local donors, we never send a child away due to inability to pay. We hope to expand and offer even more weeks of camp next year. Registration will start on our website June 1, 2023.

Young adults enjoyed their own encounters with professional artists and musicians at the Arts Exploration Lab for Teens last May. After consulting with teens about what they would like to learn, we provided them with workshops in henna body art, stage combat, special effects makeup, terrarium building, and hip-hop dance choreography. Students who knew how to play instruments worked with a WMU instructor to learn jazz improvisation and performed as the first act in the open mic night at the culmination of the event.

The adults told us they were jealous of our youth programming, so we packaged an exciting Destination Japan series for them. In downtown Vicksburg, people from all around the county gathered to learn about bonsai, sushi, woodblock printing, the game “Go,” and manga. Our series culminated in a performance by the world-famous Theatre Nohgaku, who demonstrated the techniques of classical noh theater at the Schoolcraft High School auditorium. We are currently rounding up artists and specialists for the next world destination; stay tuned for the unveiling of the 2023 Destination! Now that people are getting out more, we will be ramping up our adult programming, offering more adult classes and more music next year. A key part of our 2023 plans will be engaging and supporting local artists, writers, musicians and other creative people.

In addition to these programs, we have made a special effort to bring arts and culture to where the people are. At the Historic Village Harvest festival, families helped us create a pinwheel garden. At the Farmer’s Market and at the Parks and Rec movie night, we provided free projects like painting garden rocks, creating clothes-pin fairies, and making solar paper designs. The South County Fiber Arts group has been out in public, too, demonstrating its traditional arts. The group’s weekly meetings are a great place for the next generation to learn how to spin and knit. At the Vicksburg 150th Anniversary Kick-Off, we brought in origami artist Aerick Burton to help us make an autumn tree. Folks wrote their hopes for the next 150 years on papers and attached their folded butterflies to the tree. You can see the Tree of Hope on display in the Prairie Ronde gallery.

We’re able to offer these experiences to South Kalamazoo County residents because of generous grants from many foundations, including the Vicksburg Foundation, the Gilmore Foundation, and the Upjohn Foundation. Thanks to our partnerships with places like The Mill at Vicksburg, Gilbert and Ivy Bookstore, and the Vicksburg and Schoolcraft libraries, we have wonderful locations for our events. Most importantly, though, are the donations from the everyday folks around town. When we apply for these grants on behalf of our region, we are required to show that our community is supporting the VCAC through donations of funds and through volunteerism. Thank you to everyone who has rallied around the VCAC to provide these outstanding free and low-cost experiences for our community. We couldn’t do any of this without you! If you would like to volunteer, donate, or keep informed about our events, visit our website at http://www.vicksburgarts.com. We’re looking forward to involving as many people as we can in local arts and culture next year.

Chief Eagle Woman

Amanda Webber Hess, Chief Eagle Woman. Photo by Leeanne Seaver.

By Leeanne Seaver

Amanda had another name once. She was Derica Sunshine until she was adopted off the Hannahville Indian Reservation in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula in 1979. She was only six months old then, so Amanda Weber Hess has no memory of her indigenous family. “I knew I was native, and so did everyone around me,” she said. “In fact, I was the only Native American in a non-native family and grew up not far from the reservation where I was born. There were maybe two other ethnic kids in the school I attended. I knew nothing of the culture and had no exposure to it growing up,” Amanda admitted.

Still, when she was a little girl, she could hear pow wow drums and singing in the distance. “I would go far into the woods around my house to try and hear them better,” Amanda recalled. “Looking back, I realize the wind carried the music to me as a child, and now I’m so grateful for the wind.”

A powerful connection to nature always stirred within her, but ironically, Hess had no affiliation with a tribe that could nurture it until she was an adult. “When my own daughter, Nadia, was born in 2008, I moved to the reservation to have better access to tribal community life and cultural teachings for her. I also wanted her to be raised among both my adoptive and biological families,” Amanda said.

Then about six years ago, she signed up for a pow wow dancing fitness classes with her daughter that serendipitously led to a full immersion experience of her own Potawatomi bloodline. Amanda was warmly embraced by her instructor, then her tribe. She began learning the culture and traditions of her people.

This past May on the anniversary of her first spiritual fast, Amanda returned to the old ceremonial grounds. She planned to do another two-day spring-fasting in a tree stand without food or water. Amanda brought her medicines and healing prayers, and as she lay on the platform watching the sky go black on the first night, “Again, I could hear the drumming and singing I knew as a child.”

Then strong winds and rain spiraled out of the sky shaking the trees around her in the taut air. Amanda breathed a protection prayer only moments before she “felt lightning strike the back of my head. I was paralyzed, deafened, blinded—all in the moment—but fully aware of why,” she said. “It’s hard to explain, but everything that happened to me during and after that has been a healing gift that changed my life,” Amanda said. Feeling the presence of her ancestors and her tribal connections has helped her process the experience. She’s not at all shy to talk about it, and all discussions lead her back to deeper understandings of her native roots.

Today, Amanda Webber Hess is very much a part of the life of the Hannahville Indian community. “My Anishinaabe name is Wgema Gno Kwe or Chief Eagle Woman,” she said. With a burn scar and hair singed to her scalp at the back of her head, Amanda came to the June 2022 Pine Creek Reservation Pow Wow near Fulton. She was the head jingle dancer, and reveled in seeing her extended tribal family. Her aunt, Peggy DeLeon Smith, and uncle, Kevin Harris, an elder in the Nottawaseppi Huron Band of the Potawatomi, live at Pine Creek, and watched her proudly. “She’s our niece… we have enjoyed helping her learn about her people,” he said.

Amanda beams in reply, “They have taught me so much and inspired me and encouraged me 100 percent along the way. They are a huge part of my journey with our culture.”