Doug Limón (Oneida Nation of Wisconsin) has never been more certain of the calming focus he experiences when he works on his art than during his recent recovery from heart surgery.
Limón, who was a First Peoples Fund 2014 Jennifer Easton Community Spirit Award recipient and a 2015 Cultural Capital grantee, was part way through a series of community cradleboard workshops as part of his Cultural Capital fellowship when he fell ill. He underwent heart surgery in June and was in the hospital for over a month. He is now at home recovering.
"I'm still weak," he said. "I still need rest, but I'm getting stronger every day."
Limón has been a traditional and contemporary beadwork artist for 58 years and finds solitude in his work. "I felt like if I could start beading, I would heal faster," he said. "It does calm me down. It puts me in another state of mind."
Beading is one of the aspects Limón reviewed as he kicked off his cradleboard project this year, which is focused on revitalizing the art of making woodland-style cradleboards for infants. Limón was inspired to teach the cradleboard tradition by the birth of his youngest son five years ago.
Limón led four workshops, each of them scheduled over two weekends held one month apart. The first weekend included education about the history and purpose of the boards. The students—about 10 in each class—watched a demonstration on how to drill 50 holes in to the board before bending them. The students then took the boards home to work on them with family, and complete beadwork on the bag that carries the baby. It's during that month that creativity abounds, he said, and students learn to seek out elders and family members for input and help.
"I've never seen two cradleboards alike," he said. "There's spirit in the projects."
People from all walks of life take the class, he said, including many different ages and for different reasons. One woman said she always wanted to make cradleboards for her kids, but never knew anyone to teach her. She is a grandmother now and has taken the initiative to learn. "It gets emotional," Limón said. "It's a way to connect the family together."
It's also a great place for reflection. Some students have come in to class with misconceptions about the boards. "I teach them that this is very healthy for the baby," he said, citing research that shows that babies who were in cradleboards walked sooner because of the strength in the legs, back and neck muscles.
The word is out now that people can learn how to make the boards, and it's exciting to see the classes fill up, Limón said. "It filled up in four hours the day we first announced it," he said. "Then there is a long waiting list."
Teaching never gets old, especially when the students return for the second session with their bags designed and the stories of who helped them. "It's really amazing to see," Limón added. "It's like opening Christmas packages when they bring them in."