Thursday, October 17, 2013

She Called Me Squash Blossum!

To: Grant maker (Smithsonian?)

Re: Concha Castaneda

June 25, 2013 submitted to me October 15, 2013

To Whom It May Concern:

I am writing in support of grant candidate, Concha Castaneda, Powhatan Native American artist.  She is among the most creative and talented persons I have ever met.  Concha uses both traditional materials and designs expressed in non-traditional products, and she uses non-traditional materials in traditional patterns.  In a nutshell, Concha approaches art in a holistic manner, thinking both inside and outside the “box”,  her work is both provocative and simultaneously grounding.

Concha honors the symbols, patterns, and designs of our Ancestors and has assisted me in carefully and respectfully caring for ancient artifacts in the American Indian Museum of the Newark Earthworks (when it was a museum) and I was the Education specialist at the Newark site of the Ohio Historical Society.  When it was time to clean the display cases, I insisted that only Native Americans descendants handle the artifacts.  I wanted them thoughtfully and reverently removed and placed on a proper “Homa” (red) cloth and guarded while the cases were cleaned.  I chose Concha to help me with this endeavor due to her deep regard for the artwork and handicraft of her predecessors.

I also understand Concha has a visual challenge in that she has only one eye.  It is remarkable that she has such artistic skills considering her disadvantage.  She compensates by tactile recognition (most of her art is 3 dimensional).  In the few hours that we were engaged in caring for those precious relics, Concha absorbed a catalogue of shape and design.  That was over 15 years ago, and she has been producing significant work ever since, reflecting these symbolic archetypes in diverse media.

Concha shows her Native American values not only in honoring the past ancestors, but also by honoring future generations in her regard for our Mother Earth.  She is engaged in finding new uses for discarded items, recycling materials is a strong element of her artistic practice.  This resonates with me on many levels.  I have attached a short story that exemplifies how my elders felt about the subject.

In summation, I believe your investment of time, exposure, and financial support in Ms. Castaneda’s talents will be rewarded by the blooming effects of this very special “squash blossom”, my friend, Concha Castaneda

Most Sincerely,


Merry Carol Hapi (Daughter of Mary Lou Stahl author of The Ones That Got Away: The Choctaw trail of trials and Weaving Wildly: The Choctaw Method of Basketry


What Could Be More Indian?

By Merry Carol Hapi


My Chata (Choctaw) grandmother, Ollie and her sister, my great-aunt Jenny, had been dipping snuff since childhood.  They always had an empty can in their handbags to discreetly spit into when in church or other polite company.  They could go through a number of snuff tins in a week, and found all sorts of uses for the empty containers.  Some held beads, some held pins, fishhooks in others, dried herbs in many.

The lids were useful too.  My Taligi (Cherokee) grandfather Elton bent and folded them for sinkers (“drop that line to the muddy bottom- catch some catfish hiding there”).  That might have given Aunt Jenny the idea to sew them onto the hem of her dancing dress for the jingle effect.

When challenged by the Head Dancer at the Pow Wow, about having snuff lids instead of deer hooves, “that ain’t real Indian” he said.  Aunt Jenny replied “usin stuff tem others would throw away, if that ain’t Indian, what is?”

Post script:  I can't tell you how touched I was at this letter of recommendation.  Making my personal squash blossum necklace and concho belt of course has been something that I have been trying to finance for quite sometime.  Looking at the ones in the Smithsonian will help me design my own.  Of course, I need to get the grant for that to happen...lets not put the "cart before the horse".

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