Truth-Telling: Voices of First People

Margaret Jacobs (Akwesasne Mohawk)

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You'll Have and I'll Hold
Old Growth Series: Chives
Old Growth Series: Ash
Detail of Ash
Steel Medicine

Artwork Descriptions

You'll Have and I'll Hold, 2015

Steel, wood and graphite, 24" x 34" x7"

Photo Credit: Courtesy of the artist

This work references the constricting influences of Western culture on Native Americans.  

Old Growth Series: Chives, Ash, Detail of Ash, 2019

Photo Credit: GBH Photography

The two excerpts from Jacobs' series accentuate the medicinal plants used by her family when she was a child. Layered meanings are explored in the source material's hardness manifested in the exhibited tools, and juxtaposed with the image of each plant's perceived fragility yet, life-giving strength.

Steel Medicine, 2018

Steel, 48"x15"x10"

Photo Credit: GBH Photography

From her series by the same name, this piece highlights both elements from nature and the tools used by the early twentieth-century Mohawk Ironworkers.

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Photo credit: B.E. Bixby

A member of the Akwesasne Mohawk tribe, sculptor and jewelry designer, Margaret Jacobs is a First Peoples Fund 2019 Artist in Business Leadership Fellow. She works with a variety of materials, most notably steel and wood. Jacobs’ hands move between both large- and small-scale works that allude to, and also honor her cultural ancestry.  In her creative practice, Jacobs is a truth-teller and a bridge-builder.  The exploration of histories and stories pervade her work.

Her use of steel honors the Mohawk ironworkers, and also highlights the resilience of all indigenous cultures to adapt to the settler culture surrounding them while holding on to their indigenous customs.  Jacobs states, “I’m really interested in dealing with the contradictory nature of making this really heavy strong material look really light and organic and airy.” Her choice of materials is based on a combination of factors: her connection to them as an Indigenous person is one; and second is her interest in pairing technological processes with natural materials. Going forward, because [ancestral] references are there in the material, Jacobs is delving into  more abstraction. She says, “I’m trying to create conversations around materiality and duality so choosing materials that have contradictions to each other are important to me as an artist. While I love steel, I'm interested in exploring materials that can give me a similar aesthetic but are easier and less abusive on the body.”

Jacobs goes on to state, “In my work I try to explore truths and narratives that people may not necessarily know. I'm creating conceptual layers in my work so cultural, historical, and personal narratives are all present; some may be more nuanced than others but it's all there. I'm navigating stories, history and references that are important to me both personally and culturally as an Indigenous person. I think it's important to tell our own stories and our artwork is stronger for it. While I'm not setting out to educate the general public, I think that my work helps break stereotypes about Native peoples and show that we are still here, alive and thriving.

A future curatorial project is scheduled to open next year. The Iroquois Museum in Howes Cave, NY has invited Jacobs to co-curate an exhibition featuring Indigenous artists working with alternative and repurposed materials. In addition, Jacobs is currently teaching a sculpture class this fall at Colby Sawyer College, and a similar class at Dartmouth College for the winter semester.  She’s excited to be able to center the course around BIPOC sculptors and introduce new and emerging sculptors to her students. Jacobs states, “As an Indigenous artist, it's important for me to open up doors for others.  When I have professional opportunities like these, I like to introduce BIPOC artists who may be emerging or less known in the art world.”

*Margaret's cover page photo credit: B.E. Bixby

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