“Only through our learnings from the earth are we alive. It gave us our foods and our medicines.
It is our sustainability and resilience.
I just think of it as our cultural connection to aki.” -Vern Northrup
Exhibit: December 6 – February 28, 2020
Opening Reception: December 6, 5 – 7pm
Artist Introduction: December 6, 6pm
Interpreter, educator, learner are three words that describe the lens Vern Northrup (Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa) looks through when photographing the world. Akinomaage, Teaching from the Earth, is the Ojibwe word for what Northrup seeks to do with his photography. As an interpreter, educator and learner, Northrup wants to gain knowledge from the earth.
“The Duluth Art Institute worked with Northrup to specifically curate this exhibition to develop a story about learning from the Earth. The process was led by Northrup, with the final touches of the installation added by Curator, Amy Varsek. Central to the exhibit was conveying the teachings of the water, fire, rocks, and air. Water flows to nourish, fire burns to produce, plants grow to stabilize, and humans interact to live. The lessons from the long-standing traditions like ricing, gathering birchbark, and the symbiotic relationship between all living things are clear.”
–Christina Woods (Bois Forte Nation), Duluth Art Institute Executive Director
Using only the camera on his smart phone, Northrup captures the setting of where he grew up, creating a nostalgia for those familiar with the area, and a curiosity for those who aren’t. He uses photography as a tool to educate both himself and the viewer about the rhythm of nature, the preservation of tradition, and the relationship between resilience and sustainability. Northrup recognizes the ability of the land to act as a narrator and uses photography to reveal the story in landscapes.
A member of the Fond du Lac Band, Vern was born in 1953 in Minneapolis and moved back to Sawyer, Minnesota inside the Fond du Lac reservation. After his mother died in a car accident, he moved to Waukegan, Illinois, to live with his brother. He joined the ROTC at 17 and enlisted in the marine Corps. “I loved being a Marine; it brought me up to be a man.”
Shortly after retirement in 2011, Vern became ill with Lyme disease. As part of his recuperation, he began to cycle, and it was on a ride that he began to notice the beauty in the visual patterns of his surroundings. He stopped to take a photograph using the camera on his phone, and thus began his artistic journey.