She’s wading knee-deep in the meadow, and the sky moves in her eyes. She’s standing among friends on an open hillside below the Taconic ridge. Among the milkweed and the cattail marsh, the small ponds and the beaver lodge, a group of women are looking toward the dawn.
They are standing here on the homelands of the Mohican people, the people of the tidal river, the waters that rise and fall and are never still. And Rose B. Simpson has made them in all the colors of clay, adobe and yellow ochre and limestone.
They hold a sense of self-awareness, listening and trust, she says. As she tells the story of their coming here, she draws connections with the land around her, the people she speaks to in the past and present and future. And in the making, she feels new growth.
“… My healer, my friend, my ancestor, my sister — that clay is me,” she said. “(She) becomes me and looks back at me. And to walk into that field and see these beings, that story … Now I have to get even bigger. This week has been so intense and so emotional, hearing the water, watching my little girl run from here to there and looking at the mountain.”
As a mixed-media artist from Santa Clara Pueblo, N.M., Simpson works in ceramics and metal, fashion and performance, music and writing, and she has work collected in museums across the continent and shown internationally. Her monumental sculpture stands centrally in the group ceramics show at Mass MoCA, and this summer she has brought her outdoor sculpture, Counterculture, to Field Farm in Williamstown.
Her new beings have here come here in cooperation with the Stockbridge Munsee community of the Mohican Nation, the people who have lived here for thousands of years; forced West, they live now in Wisconsin, and they have always returned here.
On a quiet Sunday morning, Monique Tyndall, director of cultural affairs for the Stockbridge Munsee, spoke with Simpson at the Williams College Museum of Art. Tyndall remembered coming here to her homeland for the first time, and she imagined how her own people will feel when they stand here at home with the creative spirit of Simpson’s making.
“The feeling is overwhelming,” she said, “because when I see the mountains, I know them. I remember them.”
through quantum physics and research into subatomic particles. A particle can exist even when it cannot be seen or measured. Her people had no choice but to move away from here, and yet a living part of them has stayed here, and when they return, they reconnect. And the experience can transform them.
“… I think about what it will be like for my people when they come here and they see (your work),” she said. “… We are still on the land — we never left it behind — we have always kept it with us. I think about how what happens continues into the future, and it has a ripple effect.”
‘We are still on the land — we never left it behind — we have always kept it with us.’ — Monique Tyndall, Stockbridge Munsee, Mohican Nation
She imagines the strength of that moment — when past and future meet in a strong connection, now, and her people can imagine what’s possible. She feels a power in these beings, here, in this place and in these beings.
“With your work, you talk about the witnessing, They are here to witness.”
They are tall and slender, almost abstract, and something in the curve of their shoulders, the way they’re standing with weight canted on one hip, their smooth brows and sombre expressions holds the impression of women, tall and confident and rooted.
Simpson came here to help install them. When she spoke at WCMA to celebrate, she spoke of a vivd joy in bringing them here — waiting until the bobolinks have nested in the tall grass, and then working with a colleague to set them up.
“We were on ladders for six hours, joking and listening to music,” she said “… you can be silly and be reverent.”
She asks people to come and to listen. Listen to the bullfrogs in the pond and the deep-throated whir of a redwing blackbird in the maple tree, and listen to the beings she has incarnated here, listen to the clay, listen to the thoughts that rise …
“I’m listening to something beyond words when I work,” she said, “that connection to another dimension that helps me … The more I listen and ask and question, the more I find direction and get validation.”
She comes as a guest, she said, to the work, to the clay, and to the place and the people around her.
“I think about how I’m a guest here,” she said, “and I have to check myself, to act like a guest. Do you ask if you should take your shoes off? When I feel that a descendant of the ancestors is happy that I’m here, I feel I must have done something right.”
She imagines this place when the Mohican people lived here, before the Europeans came.
“Here in this field, in one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever know, I imagine that past. that awareness of history, (I have) deep tears coming from that awareness of loss.”
Living in New Mexico, she knows how much it means to her to know that her great great great grandparents lived there too, and she is home. When a fire burned her great grandmother’s ranch, she said, it felt like losing someone she loved, and as she walks here, she thinks of how it would have felt for families here to have to pack up a loving relationship with a place and leave their home.
She has gathered clay from the land here, she said, and she will bring some to the Stockbridge Munsee community to share with them. She will lead art workshops there — from this convergence here in the hills, she is forming new ones. And Mohican families will come here to see her new beings looking across the valley toward the Hoosic River.