By April Wilson, Senior Staff Writer
UNO English professor Barbara Robins’ work focuses on Native American literature, but a photograph in 2004—found on the Bureau of Indian Affairs website—took her research into the realm of Native American art and the tragic events of Sept. 11, 2001.
The photo, Robins said, was of a totem pole by an artist from the Lummi Nation in Washington State.
“I was astounded, and I had to find out more about it,” Robins said.
Her search for information led her the artist from The House of Tears Carvers, the Lummi Nation’s apprenticeship program. The artist makes these works and gives them away. They are now at all of the remembrance sites and other places in the country, said Robins.
From this original meeting the project has grown as Robins has found more and more art. Her collection of photos and information now includes more than 30 artists with art works ranging from totem poles, rug weavings and bowls, as well as engraved plates and embellished teepees.
Though the works range from the traditional to more modern, they all have a sense of patriotism, said Robins. There are American flags and Statues of Liberty. Many works prominently feature images of the Twin Towers and the planes that brought them down. Others feature prominent religious motifs.
“Art is healing,” said Robins. This theme is often unintentional, she added.
“One of the artists said after the trauma of 9/11, all he wanted to do was make something beautiful…while others have talked about putting beauty back in the world,” said Robins.
Robins’ research has come with many challenges, she said.
“Some artists are a little bit hesitant…mostly it has been the complications of finding an email, address, or a phone number…because there is an underlying history (where) a lot of native people in general are…weary of dominant American culture…some of them, culturally, are not as outgoing…they are private,” said Robins.
Robins also said, despite the difficulties, the project has been very rewarding. She has found an amazing variety of 9/11 themed Native American art that really links people together regardless of what tribe they are from. She said the variety of art is amazing and, while talking to different people on the project, she has discovered that many of the artists didn’t know there was such a large body of work out there.
Robins’ work has allowed her to create a presentation full of pictures and information about all of this artwork that she has presented at many conferences over the last seven years. She most recently gave a speech at The Center for Great Plains Studies in Lincoln in September. Eventually, she plans to take all of her work and publish it as a book.