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The story of a Soviet Union exhibition of Native American artists from Michigan

Thirty years ago, in January of 1989, Michigan Native artwork and pottery took a journey to the Soviet Union. An exhibition was held at an Art Institute in St. Petersburg.

Today on Stateside, we chatted with Sandra Clark, director of the Michigan History Center, and Frank Ettawageshik, a member of the Little Traverse Bands of Odawa. We talked with our guests about Michigan Native American Art and its contribution to an Exhibition in the Soviet Union.

This exhibition was arranged by Rebecca Matlock, wife of the U.S ambassador to the Soviet Union, and was held open to the public within the embassy in Moscow. Ettawageshik was accompanied by three other artists, Edith Bondie, Michele Gauthier, and Sally Thielen who traveled across the world bringing their artwork as gifts to give the Russian people.

Ettawageshik brought his woodland Indian pottery that mimicked the same process his ancestors used to make pottery 500 hundred years ago. His pottery, as well as the work of other artists, which included a pen and ink drawing, basketry, a clay mask, and quill box were donated to Russia.

Clark says this type of cultural exchange wasn’t uncommon during the Cold War.

“If you look back, throughout the Cold War, we were sending artists, musicians, theater groups to communist countries, and bringing people to our country with this idea that culture is something we have in common,” Clark said.

Listen above for details on the four Michigan Artists who exhibited unique Native American pieces in Russia, the power of art, and how art has been used as a means to foster relationships for many centuries.

This post was written by Stateside production assistant Katie Raymond.

This segment is produced in partnership with the Michigan History Center.

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