Elizabeth James Perry

Artist's Biography

Artist Elizabeth James Perry
(photo courtesy of Jeanette Vanderhoop)

Elizabeth James-Perry is an enrolled member of the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head -Aquinnah, located by the richly colored clay cliffs of Marthas Vineyard/Noepe. As a member of a Nation that has lived on and harvested the sea since ancient times, Elizabeth's is a perspective that combines coastal Algonquian culture, traditional beliefs and science in her ways of relating to the North Atlantic. She is multi-medium traditional and contemporary artist taught by her mother Patricia James-Perry, and by cousins Dr. Helen Attaquin and Nanepashemut whose knowledge and artistry was crucial to the development of the Wampanoag Indigenous Program at Plimoth Plantation Museum in the early 1970s.

Much of Elizabeth's work focuses on early Northeastern Woodlands Native culture, including ancient wampum shell carving and reviving natural dye techniques to create a traditional palette for her finger woven sashes, bags and baskets. She has worked to create museum-quality textile arts in milkweed and cedar bast, intricately painted deerskin and to capture the classic layered drape of Native linen trade cloth outfits. Elizabeth represents Wampanoag traditions by writing, in exhibit design, and occasionally through intensive community weaving and dye workshops for organizations like the Evergreen College Longhouse. Her work was featured in Native Peoples magazine in 2011, in Cultural Survival magazine (view article) and she has penned an article for Dawnland Voices 2.0.

Wampanoag eel trapA traditional form of Wampanoag eel trap constructed from ash splints and cedar bark for a maritime arts demonstration. Folklife Festival, Seattle, Washington. 2003.

The artist explores the rich purple of the quahog shell and soft peach conch shell, sculpturing patterned purple whale and fish effigies, large beads, leadership discs, bias collars and gauntlet cuffs. Her old-style wampum was included in Native New England Now (view publication) at the Mashantucket Pequot Museum, and was exhibited at the Peabody Essex Museum in the highly acclaimed Native Fashion Now traveling exhibit, featured on WGBH's Open Studio with Jared Bowen. The artist's formal education includes training at the Rhode Island School of Design, and Shoals Marine Lab; she holds a degree in Marine Biology from the University of Massachusetts, and was employed in fisheries research for several years. Additionally, she has conducted years of in-depth research at museum archives and collections in the United States and Europe.

Elizabeth inherited a complex legacy as a tribal whaling descendant. She participated in a textile artist residency that was a partnership between Indigenous descendants in whaling communities from Massachusetts, Hawaii and Alaska. The Impressions ECHO catalogue highlighted the pieces from this culturally-rich exchange (view publication), courtesy of the Peabody Essex Museum. She received the Paul Cuffe Memorial Fellowship to research 19th-20th century Wampanoag tribal crew aboard the Charles W Morgan, which included members of the Gay Head/ Aquinnah and Christiantown /Manititoowatan island communities. She sailed on the restored Morgan as a historic 38th Voyager. Awards include ribbons in the Textile & Jewelry Divisions at the annual Heard Museum Art Market, a Traditional Arts Fellowship from the Massachusetts Cultural Council for her wampum and twined basketry, and the Rebecca Blunk Award for her dedication to Northeastern arts. The artist resides in southern Massachusetts.

Whale effigy pendant
 
Handmade wampum choker on
fine, handspun milkweed fiber
Traditional woven round
bag, twining technique
 
Charles W Morgan
in Newport, Rhode Island
 
 
 

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