Art exhibit explores tradition and fashion in Student Union

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The "Folk Art though the Ages" exhibit by Georgia E. Nonte Perez in the student union at Kansas State campus in Manhattan, Kan. on Nov. 29, 2017. (Photo by Erwin Chege | Collegian Media Group)

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Students had the opportunity to view pieces of American folk art inspired by the various Native American cultures across America this past week at the Student Union.

Georgia Perez, the Folk Culture Exhibit’s focal artist, has been working as an accountant at Kansas State for over 40 years. Perez was born in Illinois and learned traditional weaving and handcrafting techniques from her grandmother.

“By the time I was five, I could tat, crotchet, bead and embroider,” Perez said. “By the time I was seven, I was already making pine needle baskets with my grandma, and I was actually beading with leather.”

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When her grandmother passed away, Perez said she began her long journey to discover her roots and learn the various crafting techniques used by other American folk tribes. She even went so far as to assist in archeological excavations out in the Dickson Mounds area of Illinois.

Perez said she has learned quite a bit about American folk crafting techniques and traditions. She’s learned to tan animal hides using brains, to seal and mend leather garments by smoking them and various ways of creating clay dolls and beads. Perez said beading was one of her favorite activities, likening it to meditation.

Perez’s exhibit in the Union was decorated in cow skulls, arrow quivers, dresses, masks and moccasins. Each item represented a small piece of traditional culture that many Americans don’t normally come in contact with.

There were also several intricately woven baby carriages adorned with beads and embroidered fabric. Perez said she will often make baby carriages and dresses for both close friends and selling at powwows.

Due to both federal regulations and many tribal regulations, Perez cannot claim to be Native American, nor can her work be sold or presented to the public as Native American. Nevertheless, she continues to create her art as a way of preserving and sharing her culture.

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Erika Davis, Union Program Council program adviser, said the exhibit was meant to teach students about the various cultures that inhabit the United States and about the various garments and tools that they’ve used throughout history.

“November is Native American History Month, and although this work cannot be officially labeled as Native American, it is tribal-styled,” Davis said. “We thought that it would be good to have some representation for Native American History Month.”

“I honestly don’t know near as much about American folk culture as I should,” Ethan Reimer, senior in anthropology, said. “I love looking at folk artwork. Everything is just so intricately done.”

Many other students explored the exhibit throughout the week. Davis said there will be more exhibits in the Union focusing on different cultures and experiences in the near future.

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