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|Shawl Dancer, 1992 by Tom Huff, Seneca/Cayuga|
Before the arrival of Europeans, objects made from cornhusk, hide, clay, wood, stone, shell, and bone were part of everyday use. After the arrival of Europeans, new materials like metal, cloth, and glass were traded and also used for everyday use. Later, items such as baskets and beadwork were made and sold to earn money for groceries, clothes, and other things a family needed. Today's Haudenosaunee create using a variety of new materials as well as traditional materials. Today, Haudenosaunee artists still make traditional objects such as clay pots, pack baskets, and elm bark rattles. Making these things keeps the knowledge and ideas of their ancestors alive.
Exceptional workmanship combined with a special understanding and respect for the gifts of the natural world were, and still are, an important part of producing such handcrafts. But not everyone creates in the old way. Since before Colonial times, Haudenosaunee have also been interested in new ideas and the latest materials and technology. Today old skills like headdress, moccasin, and instrument making co-exist with new skills like photography, digital art, film, media, and performance art.
Using both old and new is how the artists communicate where they have come from, who they are, and what is important to them as Haudenosaunee people.
"Each of us has our own frame of reference. It is the collective experience of us all, the reservation and the urban Iroquois, the traditional Haudenosaunee, the Christian Iroquois, that now defines the worldviews of the Seneca, Cayuga, Onondaga, Oneida, Mohawk, and Tuscarora people of today. Each of our artists is different, having had different lives, and often, believing in different things." Richard Hill (pg. 6, Iroquois Art, ERNAS Monographs 1, Feest, 1998)