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  • Writer's pictureJoey Amato

Eiteljorg Museum hires award-winning artist Monica Raphael for important curator role


The Eiteljorg Museum of American Indians and Western Art is pleased to announce that award-winning artist and educator Monica Raphael (Anishinaabe / Sičáŋğu Lakota) has joined the museum staff as the new Thomas G. and Susan C. Hoback curator of Great Lakes Native cultures and community engagement.

A culture bearer, grandmother and fifth-generation quillwork artist known for flora and fauna designs, Raphael has created pieces that are in the collections of the Smithsonian Institution National Museum of the American Indian, the Hood Museum of Art at Dartmouth College and the Eiteljorg. Raphael also has an impressive background creating and implementing cultural, educational and human services programs within tribal communities, and she has served as an instructor and guest lecturer.

“Working with curators and the museum’s education and public programs staff, Monica Raphael has a major role in cultivating working relationships with artists and tribes and developing events for the public, with a special emphasis on Native cultures of the Great Lakes region, which is her background,” Eiteljorg President and CEO Kathryn Haigh said. “Monica’s past association with the Eiteljorg already has made an impact on the community we serve, so we are thrilled that she has joined the Eiteljorg team as the Hoback curator.”

Until joining the Eiteljorg Museum last month, Raphael had been a self-employed artist in southwest Oklahoma since 2018, creating quillwork and beadwork jewelry and ribbonwork clothing. Raphael’s pieces have received awards at Native art markets such as the SWAIA Santa Fe Indian Market, Heard Indian Market in Phoenix and Eiteljorg Museum Indian Market and Festival, and have been featured in magazines highlighting Native American arts.

“I am thrilled to join the Eiteljorg team of dedicated individuals who have already made a positive and impressive impact sharing the Eiteljorg mission,” Raphael said, “and I am excited to bring my creativity and knowledge of Great Lakes Native American cultures, languages, philosophies, teachings and ways of knowing to the Eiteljorg, museum visitors and the greater Indianapolis community.”

An enrolled member of the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians, Monica Raphael grew up in Grand Rapids, Michigan, then lived near Traverse City in Suttons Bay, Michigan.

Understanding cultural dynamics was key when she worked for the Grand Traverse Band from 2002-2012, developing a behavioral health program for Native youth to increase local high school graduation rates. She obtained federal grant support for that program, which included managing a youth dance company, Mino Bimaadziwin, for which Raphael served as artistic director, choreographer and costume designer. Four students she trained won champion titles in hoop dance. The program was so successful that it was replicated in a Hopi community in the Southwest.

After 25 years helping to make data-driven change in tribal communities, Raphael in 2018 made a career change to follow a lifelong dream of becoming a full-time artist. In 2021, she was awarded the prestigious First Peoples Fund Cultural Capital Fellowship and the Native Arts and Cultures Foundation LIFT Award. Her work as an artist also brought her to the Eiteljorg multiple times for Indian Market and Festival and an artist residency, and later led to her joining the museum staff as Hoback curator of Great Lakes Native cultures and community engagement.

“Her cultural knowledge, artistic expertise and skill at engaging the public will help the Eiteljorg Museum expand its cultural offerings and establish or build on relationships with tribes in the Great Lakes region and the tribes who were forcibly removed from Indiana,” added Elisa G. Phelps, vice president and chief curatorial officer.

Monica Raphael’s quillwork and beadwork work is familiar to many fans of the Eiteljorg Museum. A bracelet she created, Nagamo “She Sings”, is on exhibit in the new Native American galleries. Another piece she created, a tasseled birch bark bag with a quillwork scissortail design, Nuh-Mah-Nuh Daawina Akiin (Homelands of the Comanche People), was the signature image at last June’s Eiteljorg Indian Market and Festival and appeared in the event’s promotions.

“We knew Monica was something special even before she was selected for an artist residency at the museum in 2022. Her depth of knowledge about the customary arts of the Great Lakes region, beadwork and quillwork specifically, led us to feature Monica as a teaching artist on the museum’s new education Web Hub. She has a unique way of connecting with people, whether working with 4th graders, university students, seniors at the local community center, scholars or Board members; and she also happens to be an incredibly talented award-winning artist. We are so excited to have Monica on staff at the Eiteljorg," said Alisa Nordholt-Dean, vice president for public programs and Beeler family director of education.

Great Lakes Native arts and cultures are important to the Eiteljorg. Through a grant from Lilly Endowment Inc., the museum in 2019 acquired more than 400 such artworks and cultural items that greatly increased the depth of its collections in that category. Beautiful examples of beadwork, basketry, carvings, mixed media and other items were included in the acquisition. Some of the Great Lakes works are on view now in Expressions of Life: Native Art in North America, in the museum’s new Native American Galleries that were reconstructed and reinstalled as part of the Project 2021 capital/endowment campaign.

Relocating from Oklahoma to Indianapolis, Monica Raphael began her new duties as Thomas G. and Susan C. Hoback curator of Great Lakes Native cultures and community engagement in September. The public can meet her at upcoming events including a gallery tour Nov. 3 and a quill stitch workshop Nov. 17.

Raphael succeeds the previous Hoback curator, Scott Shoemaker, Ph.D. (Miami Tribe of Oklahoma), who left the museum to join the Margaret A. Cargill Philanthropies in Eden Prairie, Minnesota. The position is endowed by Thomas G. and Susan C. Hoback, who are both longtime supporters of the Eiteljorg Museum; and Thomas Hoback is a former chair of the Eiteljorg Board of Directors.

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