Plymouth Gallery

ReImagining Iowa: Five Ioway Artists

Statement about the show…

The state of Iowa takes its name from the Ioway tribe. The word Ioway, which has historically been spelled Ayuxwa, Ayoua, and Aiouez among others is actually what the Dakota people called us. The word in their language means “sleepy ones.” European settlers, not realizing that what tribes called each other was not what they called themselves, adopted this word to represent our tribe. But we actually call ourselves Báxoje, the people of the grey snow. Due to a series of treaties and policies of removal and relocation throughout the 1800’s, our tribe no longer resides in their previous territory in present day Iowa. We are now divided into two tribes, one on the border of Kansas and Nebraska and one in Oklahoma.

The land has changed a lot since the time when our Ioway ancestors lived there. The tall grass prairies where our ancestors hunted buffalo have been replaced with industrial livestock operations, and the woodland forests where our ancestors gathered gooseberries have been chopped down and replaced with fields of corn and soybeans. The place where the Ioway people used to roam has been completely altered and domesticated. The wildness that once was is now dotted with cities full of pollution and crisscrossed with roadways that cut through natural habitats bringing unnecessary material goods on semi trucks.

“ReImagining Iowa: Five Ioway Artists” explores a future for Iowa by those whose ancestors used to live harmoniously here, during a time when people were not driven by desires and unessential possessions but took only what was needed for survival. The artists represented in the show are all members of the Ioway Tribe of Kansas and Nebraska and descendants of Iowa’s original inhabitants. Our tribe’s headquarters are now located on a reservation in White Cloud, Kansas with tribal members living throughout the United States and abroad.

“ReImagining Iowa: Five Ioway Artists” highlights the beauty of this region and the plants and animals that have lived here to assist in changing the way land, resources, and consumption are viewed. Our hope is that people will begin to respect the Earth the way our ancestors did.

(click on an individual piece of art to enlarge it and stop the rotation)

Lance Foster

Mowotanani (18” x 24”, acrylic), by Lance M. Foster (Irogre)

Some people see unchanged land and call it “wild” or “wilderness.” There is no word for “wild” in our native language, but there is a word in our tribal language for the land the way it was originally made by the Creator, Mowotanani. It is the land functioning as it was supposed to function. People trusted the land because they were part of it and it was part of them, and the seasons followed a pattern, as did life. It was reliable and thus trustworthy.

Here a man sits high on a bluff contemplating the morning, the sun rising over the river valley as the morning star begins to fade. He thinks about all the spirits which are all around him, above and below, which sustain life.

“Wilderness” comes from the idea of self-willed land, land that does as it was created to do, not interfered with. In western culture, the word “wild” is seen in opposition to the word “domestic,” like livestock. We did not have that word “domestic” either; we used the word “captive” or “slave” for the animals that were not “wild.” The same could be said for the land that is interfered with and made captive to human purposes. Why do some people not trust the land as it was made by the Creator, functioning and healthy, and sustaining of life, including our own?


Adąwe Ho! (18” x 24”, acrylic and marker), by Lance M. Foster (Irogre)

Adąwe is a word in our tribal language which means many things: to heed; to give heed to; to pay attention to; to attend to; to watch; to watch on/over; to take care of.

Ho is not a command, but an exhortation, a hope and a wish, for the one who listens to do what needs to be done, what is good to do.

This work is a representation of the connection between Ni dhi (the Yellow River) and ni tanra (the Great River, the Mississippi) here at Effigy Mounds. This is a connecting corridor, a travel path for animals and plants along the river systems, like branches that connect larger branches all the way to the trunk, the largest river. The corridor connects the cores, the places of refuge and reproduction for plants and animals, many of these often at the connecting points along the rivers. These are places where the animals and plants disperse from and to, to keep the land healthy. And then there are the bears moving along the river, representing the top carnivores which are only supported by the healthiest of lands, the ones closest to the original ecosystems that they have always been a part of.

The grid is how the land was divided up by the Jeffersonian grid of townships and sections, and it is fragmented by human farming, residences and utilities which obliterated the original land and its refugees, and even blocked the flow of life along its corridors.

Here is a question people need to ask. Is it possible to have both land that is healthy with its cores, corridors and carnivores as the original communities, and provide for human community needs as well? The hand represents this decision, to harm or to help, red for life and black for death, because it is the same hand of humanity that does both.

Reuben Ironhorse-Kent

Reuben Ironhorse-Kent entered the world on the eleventh day of the ninth month in the year nineteen fifty two, the second son of four. He is an enrolled member of the Iowa(y) tribe of NE Kansas & SE Nebraska with familial ties to both the Otoe-Missouria and Kickapoo in Kansas tribes, and with lineage connections to both French and Hispanic ethnicities. Being raised in and around creative individuals served as a starting point for exploring the native craft expression during his adolescent years. Beadwork eventually led up to textiles and the act of sewing. His education was acquired primarily through federal and parochial schools with minimal time spent in any general public institutions. He attained an MFA in 2013 at the Institute of American Indian Arts, Santa Fe, NM. in 2013.  He is most known for his ceramic work (raku), some of which has been published in the United States, including a college level ceramics textbook. The interest of many different media for self expression has always been at the forefront of his studio endeavors with painting being reviewed favorably by both judges and collectors.

Kayla Whiteknife Kent

Based in Lincoln, NE., artist Kayla Whiteknife Kent works both in pen & ink and acrylic painting. Her work is a portrayal of visions and dreams incorporating her native ancestry and inspiration from her study on feminine form. She aims to depict the crucial position women play in the human role of creation and survival. Her work has been featured in ‘Tribal College Journal,’ The University of NE Lincoln MMIW awareness campaign, and The Lawrence Percolator, “Heating Up” an artists’ response to climate change.

Kayla is a Graduate of Haskell Indian Nations University in Lawrence, KS. She is currently attending the University of Lincoln, NE to obtain a Masters in Dietetics with an emphasis in Humanities in Medicine. She continues to commit her time to creating art while attending class and raising two young girls.

The first piece from the Rewild show is entitled “Reconnection.” A broadened look on the spectrum of restoration.

Every being holds a spirit within, every religion and belief starts from the idea of an origin of creation. The piece “Connected/Disconnected” brings to light the very thin line between our spiritual misguidance and the self-created barrier we form in relation to the natural world.

Included in the piece are various footprints of animals native to Iowa and specific animals located throughout the Midwest. The footprints are aligned above the strip of the 4 direction colors (4 areas of wellness (spiritual, mental, physical, emotional)) to signify the unsaid knowing that animals remain within the natural law.

Once the individual begins the journey to return to the self, we can begin to heal the land, wildlife and each other.

Phillip Pursel/Sydney Pursel

Phillip J. Pursel

Phillip J. Pursel grew up in Kansas City, Missouri. Throughout his life he has explored many mediums including painting, photography, printmaking, ceramics, traditional beadwork, and moccasin making. He takes imagery and inspiration from Native cultures. He is well travelled and recently explored the Southwest where he was introduced to the Pueblo and Hopi way of life. In addition to art, he is interested in traditional agriculture and dry farming focusing on the three sisters: corn, beans, and squash. In the near future, he hopes to live with and learn from the Hopi.


Sydney Pursel

Sydney Pursel is an interdisciplinary artist specializing in interactive, socially engaged, and performance arts. Through art she explores personal identity drawing from her Indigenous and Irish Catholic roots. Some of Sydney’s projects are used to educate others about food politics, assimilation, language loss, appropriation, and history in addition to projects amongst her own community focusing on language acquisition, culture, and art. Her work has been shown at public parks, universities, galleries, and alternative spaces in Columbia, MO; Fort Collins, CO; Fulton, MO; Harpers Ferry, IA; Iowa City, IA; Kansas City, MO; Laramie, WY; Lawrence, KS; New York, NY; San Francisco, CA; Santa Fe, NM; Seattle, WA; Sheridan, WY; Toronto, ON; Ucross, WY; Vermillion, SD; and White Cloud, KS. Sydney received her MFA in Expanded Media at the University of Kansas and her BFA in Painting from the University of Missouri. She was the first recipient of the Ucross Fellowship for Native American Visual Artists, received the Harpo Foundation Fellowship for Native American Artists at the Vermont Studio Center, and was selected for the Indigenous Arts Initiative Residency program through the Kansas Creative Arts Industries Commission and the University of Kansas. Sydney is currently working on a community mural in White Cloud, KS through a Rocket Grant supported by the Charlotte Street Foundation and the Spencer Museum of Art.

Phillip Pursel/Sydney Pursel
Ñi ix^án aré ke (Water is Life), 2020
Acrylic on canvas
5’ x 4’

For hundreds of years Ioway Indians camped along the rivers and hunted in the prairies in the places that now bear their name. The State of Iowa, the Iowa River, and the Upper Iowa River, are three places named due to the presence of Ioway people. Other rivers in the region were named from Ioway words. Yet, the Ioway people have little presence there today. As settlers encroached on their territory the Ioway began a series of negotiations and treaties with the U.S. government starting in the early 1800’s. Over the course of 50 years, the Ioway lost all of their ancestral homeland and were removed to two reservations, one on the border of Kansas and Nebraska and one in Oklahoma.

The coming together and splitting of peoples is not new to the Ioway or other tribes. According to tribal tradition, the clans came from various places including the Great Lakes, western prairies, and eastern woodland to form the People. Each clan brought something specific to offer the group.


Bear: Pipe (brought the clans together and led the tribe in fall and winter)

Buffalo: Corn and other crops (led the tribe during spring and summer)

Thunder/Eagle: War (led the tribes in times of conflict)

Snake: Village (laid out the village site and made peace with the snakes)

Beaver: Shelter (taught how to make earth lodges and pipestems)

Elk: Fire (attended the sacred fire)

Wolf: Bow and arrow (kept watch)

Owl: Medicine (kept special medicines and powers)

Pigeon: Peace (kept the peace)


Known collectively as the Oneota, they also called the rivers, prairies, and woodlands of present day Iowa their home. But in the 1600’s, advancing settlers, trade relationships, and disease split the Oneota into smaller Nations. These nations dispersed and became the Ioway, Otoe, Ho-chunk, Missouria, Omaha, Ponca, Kansa, Quapaw, and Osage.

Iowa has changed a lot since the time when the Ioway and their Oneota ancestors roamed freely there. What was once truly WILD is now controlled by agricultural production and urban cities. As an Ioway tribal woman, I care about this land and the work that BeWild ReWild is doing to advocate for it. The three areas they focus on are depicted in this painting: the Loess Hills, Ozark Plateau, and Driftless areas surrounded by the clan animals. Very few of these animals roam freely between these areas now. As habitats are lost due to human interference and destruction, many animals seek refuge on or near the waterways and use them like highways to travel from one of these areas to others. Like veins in the human body, rivers provide blood to the earth. Growing and protecting these areas (known as cores) and the water highways (known as corridors) is imperative to the survival of our plant, animal, and human relatives. Ñi ix^án aré ke (Water is Life) imagines a diversity of wildlife existing in the Mississippi Watershed again.

Sydney Pursel
ReWilding “Seed Bomb” Machine, 2019

Candy machine, red clay, compost, wildflower seeds, milkweed seeds

Bees, birds, and butterflies hold a special place in my heart both personally and culturally as a member of the Ioway tribe of Kansas and Nebraska. It pains me to see these species struggle as their habitats have been lost to industrial farming and urbanization that has completely altered the landscape. Monarch butterfly populations rely on milkweed to survive their massive migrations. Industrial farms spray chemicals that eradicate milkweed and cities lack areas for milkweed to grow leaving butterflies traveling through parts of the Midwest especially vulnerable. Through the planting of wildflowers including milkweed, we can help restore habitats that butterflies and other species rely on.

Seed bombing is just one small way each of us can make a difference! Seed bombs are a mixture of seeds and soil that can be dried and dispersed. The protective layer of soil and clay around the seeds assist with germination and prevents birds and other animals from eating them. These seed bombs include a mixture of wildflower and milkweed seeds. Seed bomb areas you think would benefit from wildflowers that attract birds and bees and provide safe havens for butterflies. Plant them in the fall to bloom the following spring.

Seed bomb areas you think would benefit from wildflowers that attract birds and bees and provide safe havens for butterflies.

Wildflower seeds:

Black eyed susan – Rudbeckia hirta

Blue eyed grass – Sisyrinchium campester

Brown eyed susan – Rudbeckia triloba

Columbine – Aquilegia canadensis

Golden alexanders – Zizia aurea

Grey headed coneflower – Ratibida pinnata

Harebell – Campanula rotundifolia

Large flowered beardstongue – Penstemon grandiflorus

Meadow blazing star – Liastris ligulistylis

Ohio spiderwort – Tradescantia ohioensis

Pale purple coneflower – Echinacea pallida

Partridge pea – Chamaechrista fasciculata

Prairie blazing star – Liatris pycnostachya

Prairie ragwort – Senecio plattensis

Prairie spiderwort – Tradescantia bracteata

Purple prairie clover – Dalea purpurea

Rattlesnake master – Eringia yuccafolia

Rough or button blazingstar – Liatris aspera

Showy goldenrod – Solidago speciosa

Sky blue aster – Aster azureus

Starry campion – Silene stellata

Wild bergamot – Monarda fistulosa


Milkweed seeds:

Bloodflower – Asclepias curassavica

Butterfly milkweed – Asclepias tuberosa

Common milkweed – Asclepias syriaca

Showy milkweed – Asclepias speciosa

Swamp milkweed – Asclepias incarnata