Steel Medicine

By Sarah Elisabeth Sawyer (Choctaw Nation), Artist in Business Leadership Fellow 2015


Margaret Jacobs (St. Regis Mohawk Tribe) studied Studio Art at Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire, graduated with high honors for her thesis work, and received the prestigious Perspectives on Design award.

She works full-time in her art business, traveling throughout the U.S. for juried art markets, residencies, and shows. She currently acts as the secretary on the Board of Directors for the Native American Alumni Association at Dartmouth, and the Treasurer on the board of directors for CATV (Community Access Television).

Margaret’s 2019 First Peoples Fund Artist in Business Leadership program is funding a custom-built oven and spray booth in her home studio she shares with her husband in Enfield, New Hampshire.

Culture and family ties often sink into Margaret’s subconscious and come out through her sculptures and jewelry. She explores the tension between natural and synthetic objects and colors and how objects hold cultural and personal importance. The Mohawk Ironworkers went out from their communities into the world to build iconic structures, and their work, lives, and culture inspires Margaret in her own metal work.

“Steel Medicine”

“Steel Medicine”

“I’m influenced by this layered history of iconic buildings like the Empire State Building, the World Trade Center and the George Washington Bridge,” Margaret says. “These quintessential ‘American’ buildings are so familiar to many people and also integral to daily life, but contain this complex and unique Indigenous narrative.”

Her work is infused with colors she applies through powder-coating. “It’s a process where pigment is applied as a dry powder electrostatically to an object then cured under heat,” she explains.

Powder-coated brass jewelry is a newer venture for Margaret, a different medium to explore branches of the same concepts.

“Sometimes when I’m working with a natural object, I don’t quite know where I’m going with it,” she says, “but I like to see what the material or what the object that I’m using can inspire. I’m very much about using a material or process in an organic matter to see how and what it can lend to the work and add to my story.”

One of her pieces, “Steel Medicine,” speaks of adaptation and cultural identity. The forms in the piece allude to the spud wrench holders that Mohawk Ironworkers used to hold their tools, along with the imagery of cedar branches and eagle feathers.

“I see my family’s lineage built into my work,” Margaret says. “The concepts in my work stem from a fusion of ideas that I’m exploring: Mohawk Ironworkers and their relationship to steel as a material; the fragility and cyclical complexity of decay and growth in nature; and storytelling elements from traditional Mohawk stories.”