The Desloge Chamber of Commerce met Nov. 1 for the monthly luncheon and heard from two people about the importance of art and creativity. Jane Cook with The Art & Creativity Center in Bonne Terre and Matthew “Standing Eagle” Aguilar spoke.
First, the Chamber heard from Cook, who recently opened The Art & Creativity Center in Bonne Terre, located at 48 Raider Rd. Cook explained the center is for all of the Parkland to experience.
Prior to opening the center, Cook taught art for 10 years and owned a bookshop in Farmington but eventually sold it because, according to Cook, she had a vision— a vision of helping women.
“Every time I go on vacation, I would see women doing creative things and I just wanted to help them,” Cook said. “So I did sell the store and I started traveling, and I helped street boys in Haiti and I taught them how to crochet.”
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While helping people in Haiti, Cook knew she was close to what she actually wanted to do. Cook explained she had a really clear vision of having an art center, the idea was a little off.
Cook started working with women in 2018, specifically a group of Cambodian women who were coming out of sex trafficking and needed sustainable income. With the idea of helping women still in mind, Cook began teaching the women how to make beads and jewelry, since it was what she knew.
What originally began as six women soon grew to more than 60 women learning various creative tasks after partnering with Daughters of Cambodia, who already had 55 women involved in learning sewing, spa work, and more. After partnering with Daughters of Cambodia, Cook’s vision to start an art center grew stronger. So, she got to work.
While the center has a focus on art, creativity is just as important to Cook.
“It’s not just about art, it’s also about creatives. It’s about creative writing, creative speaking, creative music, art, everything you can imagine,” Cook explained.
The Art & Creativity Center has a wide variety of clubs and workshops in the works. Currently, the center offers a Women’s Monthly Art Club called Art4Fun, a Crochet Club, and an Art Journaling Club. Besides offering clubs and workshops, the center has open studio hours Monday, Wednesday and Friday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. For more information on the center, the website is the-art-and-creativity-center.com.
Cook then introduced Aguilar to the chamber members. Aguilar professionally uses Matthew “Standing Eagle” for his art. Aguilar’s artwork focuses on a traditional Navajo and Aztec style design, and everything is done completely by hand in the traditional way, which often takes, at a minimum, two months.
November is Native American Heritage Month, which celebrates Indigenous peoples past and present. Aguilar’s family on his father’s side came originally from Mexico in the early 1900s. In the ‘30s, when his father was growing up, Aguilar explained his father had to hide the culture.
It was not until his generation, known in Native circles as the seventh fire generation, according to Aguilar, where the heritage and culture started to be celebrated, both in the United States and in Mexico.
Aguilar said he did not know he was of Native blood until he was 16 years old. Ever since then, Aguilar has been doing research.
“So about 13 years, I believed my lineage to be the southwestern nations of the United States because a lot of southwestern Indians have Spanish names, so I believed that wholeheartedly,” said Aguilar. “And when I was 29 years old, I discovered the death information, the death records of my grandmother and great-grandmother.”
On both death certificates it listed Aguilar’s family as being from Mexico. Digging deeper, Aguilar discovered his grandmother is originally from Mexico City, and great grandmother is from Villa de Juárez in Nuevo León. His grandfather also originated from Nuevo León, specifically Apodaca.
Ever since the age of 21, Aguilar has been showcasing the art of Navajo and Aztec heritage. It’s important for him to showcase due to so many before him not being able to.
“I believe that’s monumental to me, because it’s not just for me, it’s for our whole generation,” said Aguilar. “You know, we’re the ones that are taking the stand right now for who we are as First Nations people, and sadly enough First Nations culture has been one of the most oppressed cultures in the history of the United States.”
Even though there are seven nations of Aztec people, according to Aguilar, none of the seven are recognized by the United States Government. In fact, Aguilar states, there are more than 2,000 nations from coast to coast, but only 500 of the nations have federal recognition.
“So for myself being a First Nations from Mexico, we have to stand up for who we are here, culturally.”
For people who may be Native and want to embrace the heritage, the recommendation by Aguilar is to attend a powwow. The closest one to Aguilar’s knowledge is in Sedalia every July.
“There are a lot of elders there who go to powwow, so the best sources of information are primary sources of information. You can read books, you can watch movies, you can watch documentaries and you’re going to learn some things, but it’s not going to compare to sitting down with those old ones.”
There’s also a Facebook group called Gateway American Indian Community, which Aguilar calls a wonderful outlet for people who want to be involved.
The Desloge Chamber has many upcoming events planned, including the Small Business Bingo on Nov. 26, and the Jingle Bell 5K Run on Dec. 3. The next Chamber meeting is set for Dec. 6 at noon, at the Lincoln Street Event Center.
Danielle Thurman is a reporter for the Daily Journal and can be contacted at email@example.com or 573-518-3616.