What started as a class project for a museum studies class at Florida Gulf Coast University turned into an educational display of culture and a stance against cultural appropriation.
This display and platform is in the shape of a Seminole fashion and culture exhibit, called “Sewing A Native Truth: Florida Seminole Fashion and Culture” at the IMAG History & Science Center in Fort Myers. Approximately 30 students from Felicidad Noemi McDonald’s Museum Exhibit Design class researched, curated and designed the exhibit.
Julie Evo, a student in the class, said that FGCU currently has Seminole patchwork in its collection and has worked with the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum as well as other Tribal departments in the past.
Students wanted to use that background as a platform for a larger message.
“This is what we wanted to do to show that patchwork isn’t something that’s old; it’s a tradition that’s still used in every day wear,” Evo explained. “We wanted to tack on appropriation too because we feel that there is not a lot of accreditation [to Seminoles] and a lot of people thinking they’re paying homage when they’re not taking the time to understand culture. It’s really just to educate.”
Part of the reasoning for that education also stems from the fact that there are not many places in the Fort Myers area to learn more about Seminole culture. Students traveled throughout the area to see what they could learn and find, but Evo said that their search turned up short. While some museums in the area offered a few collection pieces related to Seminoles, the majority of them did not offer any thorough insight.
To understand more about the culture and history, Evo and other students set out to learn from Seminoles themselves. Tribal members from Hollywood and Brighton, as well as Miccosukee tribal members, provided the group with items to place in their exhibit and also agreed to do some recorded interviews. A video of the interviews will be played at the exhibit.
Evo said the interviews are one of the most significant pieces of the exhibit.
“When I spoke with some of the Tribal members, one of the main questions I asked was what it means to be a Seminole or Miccosukee. Three out of the five people I interviewed got very emotional with that question because they said that they never get asked that question. They only get asked why they’re like this or why are they different but never get asked why they are proud. That, in itself, really struck home with me.”
Situated around the video of these interviews is a collection of patchwork shirts, wooden dolls on loan from the University of Florida, an old Singer sewing machine, traditional outfits, photos, and a video recording of a song that a Seminole Tribal member, who wished to remain unnamed, provided.
Evo and the design class hope that the collection, which will be open until December, will help open the community’s eyes to a culture that is in their backyard. To them, patchwork is one of the most common representations of the Seminole Tribe, but it isn’t the only representation. Their goal is for people who sport patchwork designs and other cultural symbols and artworks to understand the cultural significance of those items and respect the decades of hard work and history encompassed in them.