The Seneca Art & Culture Center rises to give thanks.
As visitors enter the Seneca Art & Culture Center in Victor, New York, without fail, each and every one pauses at an art exhibit in a tall glass case. The base is a turtle, representative of Mother Earth, by Cayuga artist Tom Huff. Painted strawberries created by Onondagan children hang above. The carved wooden ladles and spoons were created by Seneca artists more than 80 years ago as part of the WPA during the Great Depression. Each piece of art is dependent upon the previous piece for its strength and stability in the greater object as it reaches upward.
This art tower is called ganonyök, a visual interpretation of the Iroquois (Haudenosaunee, or Hodinöhsö:ni’) thanksgiving address, a prayer recited daily by many Seneca people (like the Cayuga, Mohawk, Oneida, and Onondaga, one of the Iroquois Confederacy of the Six Nations). The prayer is also recited at all group gatherings.
The spire mirrors the structure of the prayer, which begins by giving thanks to the Creator for the people gathered and for Mother Earth. Next is thanksgiving for water, fruits, trees, animals and the sun, moon, stars, and sky. The ganonyök art tower also helps non-Native visitors understand the significance of expressing gratitude to the Haudenosaunee people.
That is why the art tower is the focal point of the Seneca Art & Culture Center, a 17,300-square-foot building that showcases cultural and historic artifacts of the Seneca people going back more than 1,000 years.
Visitors can do more than marvel at Huff’s masterpiece. The historic site encompasses 569 acres of hiking trails, picnic shelters, gardens, and a re-created Seneca bark longhouse representative of the 17th-century Seneca village once located here. The center also hosts art exhibits. This year saw the opening of the Hodinöhsö:ni’ Women: From the Time of Creation exhibit, which recounts the roles and contributions of Haudensosaunee women throughout history. Cooking classes featuring Iroquois White Corn are among other activities, while Iroquois White Corn products, such as the flour used in classes, are sold in the center’s gift shop.
Ganondagan State Historical Site, State Route 444, Victor, New York. 585.924.5848, ganondagan.org. For more about Iroquois White Corn read “The Iroquois White Corn Project” in the August/September 2018 issue. Image courtesy Margaret Joseph/Ganondagan State Historical Site.
From the August/September 2018 issue.