Press Releases

A new major exhibition at Mystic Seaport Museum, “Entwined: Freedom, Sovereignty, and the Sea”

First Edition Eliot Bible, New and Old Testament, 1663. Published by Samuel Green, Cambridge, MA. A rare copy of the 1663 bible. Courtesy of the Collection of Mashantucket Pequot Museum and Research Center. Photo courtesy of Mystic Seaport Museum, Joe Michael.

Mystic Seaport Museum is pleased to present Entwined: Freedom, Sovereignty, and the Sea, an exhibition that surveys the interplay of maritime histories through Indigenous, African, and African-descended worldviews. Opening on April 20, 2024 and on view until Spring 2026, the exhibition will examine the twelve millennia of Black and Indigenous history through objects and loaned belongings from Indigenous and African communities dating back 2,500 years, including a selection of 22 contemporary artworks. Entwined will be the first exhibition by Akeia de Barros Gomes, Senior Curator of Maritime Social Histories at the Museum, and is the culmination of a three-year initiative supported by the Mellon Foundation to re-examine regional museum collections through a contemporary lens. Entwined will be accessible to Black and Indigenous community contributors to the exhibition for a month prior to the official opening. 

Entwined celebrates the survival of the indigenous cultures on two continents over thousands of years and a shared connection of Indigenous Africans and Indigenous Americans to the Atlantic” shared de Barros Gomes. “This exhibition explores stories under a contemporary cultural umbrella from creation through periods of interruption and trauma to the modern traditional expressions of how we continue to thrive.” 

The earliest belonging (object) on view in Entwined dates to over 2,500 years ago, a time when both sub-Saharan Africa and the Dawnland—the name for New England among Indigenous nations in the Northeast—were centers of flourishing civilizations and cultural diversity. During this era, African societies were marked by advanced trade networks and the development of sophisticated art and craftsmanship. Meanwhile, Indigenous communities in the Dawnland maintained extensive trade networks and a deep connection with their environment, producing sophisticated artwork, spiritual belongings, and tools that reflected their ties to nature. Overseas migration—both forced, and increasingly during the era of whaling, free—brought people from the coast of Africa into contact with Indigenous communities in New England. These encounters initiated a complex intersection of social identity and shared struggle related to colonial displacement, but also a recognition of common expertise in navigating and utilizing the resources of the ocean.  

At Mystic Seaport Museum, Entwined expands upon this history to highlight the various oceanic spiritual, social, and technological threads that exist between Black and Indigenous communities on both sides of the Atlantic that continue to resonate and confront us today. Central to the exhibition is a canoe commissioned by Mystic Seaport Museum and built collaboratively by four contemporary artists: two of African descent, Sika Foyer (Togo) and Alvin Ashiatey (Ghana); and two of Native American descent, Hartman Deetz (Mashpee Wampanoag) and Gary Carter Jr. (Mashantucket Pequot). The canoe, which is both a traditional and contemporary piece of art was created in a “dugout” tradition, a process by which the wood is hollowed out by burning and then polished, which has been the way of fashioning canoes for various African and Indigenous communities for thousands of years. This shared method of craftsmanship highlights an incredible commonality between African and Indigenous peoples’ relationship to the sea that long predates European contact.  

Entwined will reveal the foundation of Black and Indigenous maritime cultures through historical artwork and belongings that outline the respective histories and traditions associated with African and Indigenous cultures’ relationship to the ocean. The Indigenous belongings include artworks on loan from Indigenous nations and individuals such as fishing decoys, beads, and a water drum. A second thematic guiding force of the exhibition, and the oldest belonging on view, is an Aboriginal Cooking Pot ca. 500 BCE. underscoring a method of shell tempering that is common to both the Dawnland and African continent. Another object loaned to the Museum by the Mashantucket Pequot Museum and Research Center is a first edition Eliot Bible, translated and printed by a Nipmuc man named Wowaus (later known as James Printer). Raised as a Christian, he was introduced to the missionary John Eliot and became one of several Indigenous men who contributed to the translation of the Eliot Bible. While initially translated into the Algonquian dialect-N as a tool for Europeans to Christianize Native Americans, the Eliot Bible was used 350 years later by Northeast Indigenous communities as reference materials to relearn and reclaim endangered Algonquian languages.   

The exhibition also features a replication of a colonial attic typical of where Indigenous indentured servants and enslaved Africans were forced to live. A highlight among the belongings in this space is an 18th-century nkisi bundle originally discovered underneath a floorboard in the attic of the Wanton Lyman Hazard House, the oldest standing colonial house in Newport, Rhode Island. Minkisi (plural) are a collection of various objects such as shells, beads, and glass that were created to bridge the gap between the physical world and ancestors, maintain a connection to Africa, and provide protection and healing. The bundle is the only example surviving in New England. 

Continuing into the present day, Entwined will feature works that highlight contemporary Black and Indigenous reclaiming of freedom, sovereignty, and the sea. Painting and sculpture will be presented by Black and Indigenous artists based in the northeast United States, including Christian Gonçalves, Sherenté Mishitashin Harris, Sierra Henries, Elizabeth James Perry, Gail “White Hair Smiling” Rokotuibau, Robin Spears, Felandes Thames, Alison Wells, and Nafis M. White.  

The autonomy given through the whaling industry is explored in both Courtney M. Leonard’s BREACH: Logbook 15 / SCRIMSHAW STUDY #2 (2015) and Felandus Thames’s Wail on Whalers, a portrait of Amos Haskins (2024). Leonard referenced the history of Indigenous whaling pre-colonization with a ceramic sculpture of a whale tooth painted with red clay, while Thames presents a portrait homage to Amos Haskins, an Aquinnah Wampanoag master mariner. The Other Side of the Harbor (2013) by Alison Wells collages news clippings and references to the Underground Railroad in the free state whaling city of New Bedford. Applications of maritime culture on indigenous art are highlighted in Sierra Autumn Henries’s She Sings the Old Songs (2024), birch bark carving and wampum work paying tribute to generations of whalesong. Further works of water drums, traditional dance regalia, hair work, and jewelry were recently made to serve as a connection for future descendants to embrace and appreciate their historical narratives. These intertwined threads of history coalesce in the collaborative canoe to create a tapestry of shared experiences. 


Entwined: Freedom, Sovereignty, and the Sea is generously funded by the Just Futures Initiative of the Mellon Foundation as part of the Reimagining New England Histories project. 

Mystic Seaport Museum also gratefully acknowledges our project partners, Brown University and Williams College, and our community advisors whose collective voices, knowledge, creativity, and wisdom are foregrounded in this exhibition.

Exhibit design and fabrication by SmokeSygnals. 

News The Sea Connects Us

Beads and Water

How My Internship at Mystic Seaport Museum Brought Me Closer to My Tribe’s Beading Heritage

By Cheyenne Morning Song Tracy, White Earth Anishinaabe (Ojibwe)

Photo by Cheyenne Morning Song Tracy, White Earth Anishinaabe. At Tomaquag Museum. Wampum and beaded medallions on a belt. Ca. 2000s

I was born in New London, raised in Groton, and have been coming to Mystic Seaport Museum since I was three. It’s always been a special place for me, so when I heard of the Museum’s internship program that was centered on the theme of Reimagining New England Histories, with the goal of including diverse narratives in the museum, I jumped at the chance to be involved. As a Native American woman, I have rarely seen this done, and I felt that this was something that I needed to be a part of. The experience has been far more impactful than I could have realized. During the internship, I had the opportunity to work with a Mystic Seaport Museum community partner, Tomaquag Museum in Exeter, Rhode Island. This museum is a Native American-run space that does not have specific ties to any one tribe. The Tomaquag Museum tells a cohesive story of the local tribes of New England. Unfortunately, due to a lack of funding and staffing, their collection hadn’t been inventoried in over 40 years. During the summer, my intern team and I were able to inventory their entire collection of belongings (The term belonging is used when describing artifacts in a collection to acknowledge personal connection of the people and communities who created and cared for them.

While doing this inventory, I was able to experience many amazing belongings. Working in a small room I got to know the beadwork intimately. Though not alive, the presence of the beaders that had stitched and worn the beadwork was still there. The beadwork has a life of its own, it opens a window into the thoughts and feelings of the beader. With every box I took off the shelves, opening and unwrapping the beadwork, I always felt my heartbeat get a little faster. While reflecting on this experience, I realized that the beaded makizin (Anishinaabek for moccasins) that I worked with were the first I had handled that were not mass-produced. While wearing protective gloves to prevent oils from my skin from getting onto the beadwork, I would run my hand over the beads softly, admiring their craftsmanship and how the beads caught the light and reflected patterns. The buckskin that these moccasins were made out of was almost always dried out from age, and the horsewoman in me wanted to use saddle soap to rehydrate them (though that would not have been a good idea).  With the contribution of my research to accompany these belongings, I hope the presence of these past beaders can shine through all the brighter.

As I inventoried the belongings, I felt a strong connection to the beadwork of the northeastern coastal tribes; although I am an Anishinaabe of the White Earth reservation in Minnesota. Minnesota is referred to as the land of ten thousand lakes, and while over 5,000 miles from the Atlantic Ocean, the people have their own connection to water and waterways. My grandmother was raised by her grandparents and grew up on our reservation near Elbow Lake. Her grandparents raised her after her mother died at a young age from tuberculosis. They taught her the traditional ways of their ancestors. This included learning the language, making her a fluent speaker of Anishinaabek. (A note to the reader: Anishinaabe, Anishinaaba, and Anishinaabek are used interchangeably for the tribe depending on the region. Generally Anishinaabek is used in reference to the language). At the age of eight, her father moved her off the reservation causing her to lose much of her knowledge about our language and culture. Because of this, my mom and I did not get the chance to connect to the reservation or our heritage in the same way my grandmother was able to. My grandmother was never taught beadwork, so I was never able to learn beading from her or my mother, the traditional way of learning to bead. The year before my internship at Mystic Seaport Museum I bought an earring beading kit from another Native beader and began my own beadwork journey to connect with my Anishinaabe heritage.

During the first part of my internship, we were encouraged to go to the Educational Powwow at the Mashantucket Pequot Museum and Research Center. Going to this powwow allowed me to see more contemporary beadwork that people were wearing. This is how I met a Shinnecock beader. We struck up a conversation over the beadwork that she had for sale and was working on. I am known by many to be a very shy person, but my ancestors must have given me some courage that day. Talking with her I told her about how I was learning to bead but was not very good. And she encouraged me to keep beading. Through beading, I made a new friend.

Gratefully, after the summer internship at Mystic Seaport Museum concluded, I was able to extend my work through the fall to work more with the beadwork at the Tomaquag Museum. My research was originally focused on what in the collection are Anishinaabe belongings or belongings inspired by Anishinaabe art and tools. My first step was to make a list of what I thought was or could be connected to one of these two categories. As I researched, I realized that what I knew most about and was connected to the deepest was the beadwork. In order to truly understand the difference between Anishinaabe beadwork and other tribes’ beadwork I needed to research the unique characteristics of each. The Anishinaabe are known for floral beadwork designs. As I studied and researched this beadwork, I observed that Anishinaabe traditional beadwork is fluid, circular, and flows, with lots of vines that were often made with opaque white beads. It is often stitched on black or red velvet, and occasionally on a mixture of buckskin and velvet. Flowers tend to be outlined in a different color than the flowers themselves. The petals tend to be oval in shape, and the beadwork is balanced but not mirrored and has S-curve motifs. The Anishinaabe are a woodland tribe. Though different from the woodland tribes of Connecticut and Rhode Island, the Anishinaabe share the use of floral patterns in their beadwork.

Photo by Cheyenne Morning Song Tracy, White Earth Anishinaabe. Parts from an Anishinaabe-style beaded moccasin. Tomaquag Museum collection, ca. early-mid 1900s.

Beadwork from the tribes in Connecticut and Rhode Island is different from Anishinaabe beadwork, as it incorporates wampum as well as the pan-Indian style of beading. Wampum are purple and white beads made out of the quahog (hard shell) clam. Traditionally these beads were used as gifts and to document agreements. Wampum belts are highly prized. When the Dutch arrived on Turtle Island (Turtle Island, the Native American name for North America, comes from the creation story about North America being on the back of a turtle.) they saw how prized wampum were and soon started to use it as currency, though wampum is not a currency in Native American culture. Coming into its own in the early 1900s, pan-Indian beadwork is a cohesive style that incorporates the styles of tribes across the United States in distinctive more geometric and western-themed depictions.

Photo by Cheyenne Morning Song Tracy, White Earth Anishinaabe .  Broken quahog shells, ca. 2023.

Beading existed on Turtle Island long before the arrival of Europeans but this arrival marked a big change in beadwork. Before Europeans, beads were made out of seeds, animal bones, animal teeth, shells, and stones. The Anishinaabe are still renowned for the use of the natural material of porcupine quills. With European arrival came glass seed beads from Italy which brought a variety of colors to the beadwork of Native Americans. This portion of Native American beading history was discussed in Sargent, Whistler and Venetian Glass which closed on February 27. The beaded top hat embellished with wampum pictured below was on loan from the Tomaquag Museum. Also on loan was a necklace constructed from wampum and beads. These belongings are modern so color usage and style are different from older beadwork pieces. Historically, the harder the color was to achieve the more valuable the bead was. The value of beads would also change from tribe to tribe as different tribes valued different colors. But across all tribes, the color that was highly prized was sky blue as it was not something that was achievable in dyes that were available on Turtle Island.

(left) Beaded top hat by Yolanda Smith, Seaconke Wampanoag. (right) Trade bead necklace by Dan Loudfoot Simonds, Mashantucket Pequot (not recognized). Sargent, Whistler & Venetian Glass: American Artists and the Magic of Murano. Courtesy of Mystic Seaport Museum.
Photo by Cheyenne Morning Song Tracy, White Earth Anishinaabe. Beaded top hat by Yolanda Smith, Seaconke Wampanoag. Top view of hat.

When I first started beading I was making earrings either fringe or powwow style. Beading anything but earrings was intimidating to me as it was so much more time and work. This feeling changed when working with the beadwork at Tomaquag. To feel them, to see them up close, I was inspired by the familiarity of these new beading techniques. Fringe requires only one needle, beads, and thread. While powwow style earrings require the two-needle method, where one thread holds the beads and the other tacks them down onto the backing every two or three beads. The two-needle method is used on larger pieces of beadwork for intricate designs. While the two-needle method sounds more complicated it is in fact just as easy as the fringe earrings. The process of making both these styles of earrings is different, but both are equally important to Native American culture. Another method, one I have yet to try, called lazy or lain stitch is used to cover a larger piece, like makizin, at a faster rate. To do this the beads are stitched down every seven to eight beads in line.  There is also loom beading which requires a special loom to weave the beads into one piece. This can be used to make necklaces, bracelets, and lines of beadwork that can be attached to clothes. While there are many other styles of beadwork as well, the ones that I have studied at Tomaquag are lazy/lain stitch, two-needle, and loom beading. The different styles of beading can be overwhelming, but they each are used to achieve a different goal in a beader’s work.

Photo and beading by Cheyenne Morning Song Tracy, White Earth Anishinaabe. In progress loom-beaded belt, ca. 2022-2023 Colors inspired by Anishinaabe beading pattern from Beads To Buckskin Volume Two.

As the summer progressed, I gained more confidence.  I never imagined I would attempt to stitch a larger floral beaded design. These are what many imagine when they think of Anishinabek beading. I created the floral work you see in the image for the shoulder pad of a bag for my fiance, my biggest cheerleader. As he saw me growing, he made me a larger bead loom so I could create larger beadwork. I decided I wanted to make a belt. I used a pattern from Beads To Buckskins Volume Two by Peggy Sue Henry. This pattern is in the pan-Indian style, but the colors are inspired by my Anishinabek heritage.

For a long time, I have wanted to bead a pair of makizins that belonged to my grandmother. After her passing in 2012 from cancer I was given her makizins (we both had big feet and I am the only one in the family they fit). While they were not handmade, they belonged to my grandmother and still hold a great connection to her.  I think of her when I wear them. Before the work I did at Tomaquag, I was nervous about doing anything with her makizins, as I felt I didn’t know the first thing about beading them. When working with all the beautifully decorated makizins at Tomaquag it was clear, I had to learn to bead my grandmother’s makizins. After nearly a year on this challenging journey, today, when I hold the pair of moccasins from my grandmother, and I eye the blank canvas of the empty hide on top yearning for color and light … I have a feeling I might be ready.

I am so grateful for all that I was able to learn and want to say a big miigwetch (Thank you) to the staff at Mystic Seaport Museum, the staff at Tomaquag Museum, and of course my supportive fiancé.

Photo and beading by Cheyenne Morning Song Tracy,White Earth Anishinaabe. Beaded shoulder pad for a messenger bag, ca. 2022, owned by Antonio C. Pereira.

Visit Cheyenne’s art online at Morning Song Beading.


Barkwell, Lawrence J. “Characteristics of Metis Beadwork.” The Virtual Museum of Métis History and Culture, September 11, 2013. https://www.metismuseum.ca/.

“Beadwork.” Crafting Idaho, 2012. https://crafting.idahohistory.org/beadwork/.

D’Alleva, Anne. Native American Arts & Cultures. Davis Arts & Cultures Series. Worcester, Mass.: Davis Publications, 1993.

Dean, David. Beading in the Native American Tradition. Interweave Press. Loveland, Colorado, 2002.

Densmore, Frances. Chippewa Customs, 1929.

Henry, Peggy Sue. Beads To Buckskins: Volume Two. Jayhwak Tock and FurShop. Hill City, Kansas, 1989.

Smith, Monte and Michele VanSickle. Traditional Indian Beading and Leather Crafts. Eagle’s View Publishing. Liberty, UT.

Thao, Susan. “Worn Within: What is the difference between Dakota & Ojibwe beadwork?” TPT Originals. 2021.