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Reception highlights poetry through art, writing

Elgin Jumper talks about his art that is displayed in the Mosiac Gallery at the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum on March 16, 2022. (Photo Beverly Bidney)

BIG CYPRESS — Since Elgin Jumper sees poetry in everything, the opening reception for his “Fluent Poetry” show at the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum on March 16 celebrated all types of poetry, including visual and the written word.


The title of the show comes from Jumper’s take on the poetic and lyrical feeling of the visual art he creates with paint. The versatile fine artist and writer said he speaks fluent poetry through both art and writing.


In addition to unveiling the artwork hung on the wall of the museum’s Mosaic Gallery, the reception featured poetry readings by members of the Seminole Writers Group, which Jumper founded in November 2021.


The 15-piece exhibit showcases Jumper’s creativity which has been influenced by various artistic genres such as tonalism, Cubism, Fauvism, graffiti art and abstract art. During the opening ceremony, a group of Ahfachkee School high school students listened, learned and asked questions of Jumper after he introduced the show.


“Just get started,” Jumper said. “I urge you right now to get into it and start that journey.”

Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum director Gordon “Ollie” Wareham plays flute during the poetry reading at the opening reception of Elgin Jumper’s “Fluent Poetry” show March 16, 2022. (Photo Beverly Bidney)


In response to a student’s inquiry if he painted landscapes outside or from photos, Jumper recalled fond memories of traveling to different reservations with his friend and mentor Jimmy Osceola to paint outdoors. Jumper said he still paints outside, “but you have to be quick because the shadows move all the time. It keeps you on your toes.”


Students wanted to know which was his favorite painting in the show. After mentioning a graffiti art inspired piece, Jumper said his favorite at the moment was the latest one he painted. The piece, a portrait of a man, is painted almost entirely in shades of red. He said the piece was inspired by Vincent Van Gogh, who did a series of paintings of sunflowers almost entirely in tones of yellow in 1888-89.


“Just experiment with styles, go to museums to look at art,” Jumper advised the students. “Find out what you like, but try other things too.”

From left, Barbara Billie, Marcella Billie and Krystle Young Bowers are resplendent in patchwork as they prepare for the opening reception of “Fluent Poetry” on March 16, 2022, at the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum in Big Cypress. (Photo Beverly Bidney)


The spoken word portion of the reception was held outdoors by the smoldering fire in the shelter near the museum’s front door. Members of the writing group took turns reading from their poems.


Barbara Billie was up first and warned the attendees that she was just a beginner. She read from her poem “Mother,” which was the first thing she had ever written.


“She asked for nothing, only that her children become good adults,” Billie read. “How lucky am I to have such a beautiful giving person to be my mother.”


Krystle Young Bowers read a poem and an essay about language as museum director Gordon “Ollie” Wareham played the flute. The next writer, Carol Cypress, spoke from her heart instead of from the page.

“When the flag was down, I used to ask who passed away,” Cypress said. “I don’t ask anymore and that makes me sad. My grandfather was a medicine man and told me a lot of people came to his camp. There was a lot of death and illness, but they didn’t run away from it.”

Attendees watch the program in the front of the museum. (Photo Beverly Bidney)

The last to read was Jumper, who offered a poem he found inspiring and hoped would be helpful to other poets.

“Poetry is good for developmental learning
Poetry is good for developing skills
Poetry helps improve ideas
Poetry is therapeutic for the writer
Poetry is therapeutic for the reader
Poetry helps you to understand the significance of words themselves
Poetry helps you understand people”

Bowers also announced the formation of “Around the Fire Magazine,” a literary journal focused on Indigenous stories. The website states it accepts short stories, flash fiction, poems and essays. The website is aroundthefiremag.com.

“We hope to get some Florida Natives to submit poetry, fiction, essays,” Bowers said. “Descendants, too. People can submit their pieces on the website. We’d like to have 100 pages.”

The “Fluent Poetry” exhibit is open at Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki through May 31.

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Beverly Bidney
Beverly Bidney has been a reporter and photographer for The Seminole Tribune since 2012. During her career, she has worked at various newspapers around the country including the Muskogee Phoenix in Oklahoma, Miami Herald, Associated Press, USA Today and other publications nationwide. A NAJA award winning journalist, she has covered just about everything over the years and is an advocate for a strong press. Contact her at beverlybidney@semtribe.com.
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