Shinnecock Voices: Ma’s House – a Safe Place to Create

Ma's House with friends, family and Shinnecock founding artist Jeremy Dennis (kneeling) Courtesy Christian Weaver
Ma’s House with friends, family and Shinnecock founding artist Jeremy Dennis (kneeling)
Courtesy Christian Weaver

Shinnecock artists have been giving the world creative energy for centuries. The old ones created beautiful pieces from gifts of the Earth. Wampum carvings from quahog shells, paintings on buckskin from dye made of berries, and baskets woven from birch and other flora. In the 1950s, David Martine Bunn was famed for his ability to carve beautiful, lifelike duck decoys.

Today, some of our artists include citizen Courtney Leonard’s celebrated expression through clay, citizen Justin Weaver has traveled the globe photographing life and adventure for the likes of Men’s Journal magazine, Adidas, Toyota, and Victory Journal to name a few. Citizen Gordell Wright’s wampum work is shown across the country from Arizona to Philadelphia, Oklahoma and Indianapolis. Shinnecock descendant and world-renowned photographer Camille Seaman as been on the cover of more than five National Geographic magazines and is a TED Senior Fellow.

Jeremy Dennis is yet another Shinnecock artist making a huge impact in the art world. Raised on the Shinnecock Territory, he is a contemporary fine art photographer. Jeremy holds an MFA from Pennsylvania State University and a BA in Studio Art from Stony Brook University. In 2016 he embarked on a powerful journey to identify and uplift culturally specific Native sites along Long Island. On this Site utilizes an interactive online map and photography to reclaim Indigenous sacred and significant sites on the Island.

In June of 2020, during the middle of the coronavirus pandemic, Jeremy set out on yet another journey, to turn his grandmother’s old home into an art gallery and studio. Loretta Silva (Ma) was born in 1919 and had always dreamed of her house, which was built in the 1960s, becoming a museum. With the help of many Shinnecock citizens, outside artists and friends such as Pink Floyd’s own Roger Waters, Ma’s House has been transformed from a once loving and nurturing home to a safe place for artists to explore their crafts and exhibit their works.

After many shows and exhibitions were canceled due to the COVID-19 virus, Jeremy was inspired to create a space where artists from minority communities could come and express themselves in a place built specifically for them. Even in a field as creative as art, many artists are met by gatekeepers, or industry folk who aim to confine or stifle true freedom of expression. Some agents and curators use their perceived power to lift up artists that are in line with only their belief systems, resulting in many artists left with out a place to work, express, grow and be celebrated.

Ma’s House is a wonderful haven for artists to be free. To be authentic and honest with not only themselves but to the public, the viewers of said art. Inspired by movements and activism working towards social justice in the areas of bigotry, systemic racism, and police brutality, Jeremy hopes that Ma’s House will evoke creative energy, healing, and be liberating.

Since December of 2021, Ma’s House has included 10 amazing artists from around the country in its residency program, as well as several exhibitions. The gallery and studio have received grants to assist in its growth and sustainability and is quickly being noticed across the country. This year, Ma’s House celebrated the addition of a library to the space thanks to the generosity of several donors including, the John Jermain Library, and the Stony Brook University Library. Just this April, U.S. Poet Laureate Joy Harjo paid a visit to the space.

Building Ma’s House into what it is today has been no easy task, yet its success and growth is a true testament to what happens when people come together humbly with good energy and intentions. Providing a safe and healthy place for artists to thrive is such an important endeavor, and Ma’s House and the Shinnecock Nation are leaders in that space.

Christian Weaver
Christian Weaver

Christian Weaver (Shinnecock), Wampum Group president and Program Director for the Tribal Solar Accelerator Fund, has been in the development and strategic planning industry for nearly 20 years. Christian is passionate about lifting communities and has dedicated his career to making a positive impact in the lives of others.

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