Towanna Miller – Kahnawake Mohawk

Title: Towanna Miller – Kahnawake Mohawk
Image size: 38 x 29 inches
Medium: Colored and graphite pencils, acrylic, watercolor and ink.

Towanna’s acrylic and mixed-media paintings—some of which utilize beads, velvet, leather, and seeds — are inspired by Native spiritual beliefs and legends, cultural staples like corn, and contemporary Native music. Her paintings, which she refers to, collectively, as “Mohawk Whispers,” emerge from “thoughts, feelings, memories, music, and words,” she says. “I keep asking myself, what does it mean to be Mohawk? And my next painting whispers it to me.”

About the time Towanna was ten years old, her mother, Barbara Little Bear Delisle, was teaching her to do beadwork.  By the time she was thirteen Joe Geshick (a talented Native American Artist) was encouraging her artistic endeavors. He suggested improvements in her drawing technique and supplied her with art materials. Joe also helped her compile her first art portfolio as part of her entry requirements for the High School of Art and Design in Manhattan. From there she attended the Kahnawake Survival School, in Quebec Canada and then matriculated to the Institute Of American Indian Art in Santa Fe, New Mexico where she graduated with honors. “School gave me the tools; it was up to me to be productive,” says Towanna. “For a short time I worked at the American Indian Community Gallery/Museum in New York City and in 2003 I returned to Kahnawake and the Longhouse. I picked up my paint brushes again and felt inspired.” Her working techniques consist of both flat and raised Iroquois style beadwork, loom work, and peyote stitch.  “For many years all I did was beadwork for powwows, traditional longhouse, dancing, and wedding regalia along with a host of other items. Now I’m teaching my oldest daughter, Katarenhawe, how to do loom work. It's like this is going full circle as my daughter will carry this on to the next generation.”

In her paintings Towanna incorporates bright colors with a textured style that combines both light and shadow. Since childhood she listened to the Iroquois Creation Stories told by Tom Porter. She says “they stayed with me all my life. I have these paintings in my head and I ache until I’m able to reproduce them on canvas.” Some of her paintings are embellished with beadwork. “It’s such a part of who I am,” says Towanna. “Now I combine my love of painting and beadwork together.  My paintings are inspired from the stories I heard since childhood of our creation, prophecy, culture and history.  Most of my work has bright colors with a contemporary flare.  If you ask what I have learned on my journey it’s that if you’re determined enough, focused and have the desire, you can do anything.  Don't let fear misdirect you.  Don't let distractions take you off your path.  Shut the door, take the phone off the hook, blast the music, and allow the inspiration to flow through you.  You may be surprised with what you accomplish.”

Her work has been exhibited at the Kahnawake Cultural Center, The Artist Project in Chicago, the Kanatsiohareke Mohawk Summer Festival, in Fonda, New York, the Festival International Montreal in Arts, the Huron Nation Art Festival, the Mitchell Museum of the American Indian in Chicago, and at the Native Women's Association of Canada Annual General Assembly Trade Show. She represented the Mohawk Nation of Kahnawake at the 2010 Olympic Games in Vancouver.