BRATTLEBORO - In-Sight Photography Project founder John Willis has had many years of relations with Lakota people of the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota, and is now welcomed and trusted in many homes, schools, and ceremonies. And still he is learning, always learning, which partially explains his acceptance at the Oglala Lakota Tribe. During In-Sight’s annual Exposures Summer Program, John connects participants with experiences very close to the heart of the Lakota culture, including sweat lodges, visits with elders and artists, KILI radio interviews, community meals, access to darkrooms, and more. And he has been the conduit for In-Sight to contract with Lakota seamstresses to make quilts for fundraisers for the Exposures scholarship fund.

In the past century, Lakota women have raised their star quilts to an art form. The star pattern is derived from early buffalo robe designs. The morning star is an important figure in Sioux ceremonies. It represents the direction from which spirits travel to earth and is a link between the living and the dead, thus symbolizing immortality. Today, star quilts are one of the most valued gifts of the Sioux people, often made for "give-away" events such as memorial feasts, funerals, celebrations, naming ceremonies and marriages. For the newly married couple, the star quilt is considered an essential gift, bestowing upon them recognition and respect.


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This year’s raffle quilt was a design partnership between In-Sight’s guest facilitator Nancy Shepherd of Putney, who helped choose fabrics, and Lakota seamstress Andrea Marshall of Lost Dog Creek, S.D. who created the quilt. For In-Sight, the quilt symbolizes a link between Pine Ridge Reservation and Vermont, and a celebration of the connection through the Exposures program.

Exposures works with a small group of youth between the ages of 15 and 21 from around the country, and brings them together for a three-week intensive workshop at the Pine Ridge Reservation, exploring culture, communication, and photography. The experience raises awareness of cultural issues for all, including the Lakota participants. The 12-year Exposures program is run by the In-Sight Photography Project out of its humble Brattleboro, Vermont facility. It’s a challenging program for the youth participants as well as for the adult facilitators. It’s not a sanitized experience, but full of the magnificence and distress that can come from consciously stepping out of one’s comfort zone.

The Exposures program carries on without regard to what its youth participants can or cannot pay. Fundraising is not a sanitized experience either, but In-Sight is in its 23rd year of carrying on its goal of spreading love of the photographic arts, community-mindedness, and the awe-inspiring opening of a young soul to life’s wonder.

Tickets for the queen-sized Lakota quilt are: one for $5 / five for $20 / thirty for $100. Tickets are available at In-Sight Photography Project at 45 Flat Street in Brattleboro, or on the In-Sight website at www.insight-photography.org/insight/support, or at Brattleboro Pharmacy, located at 413 Canal Street in Brattleboro, the generous sponsor of the raffle. They are a locally owned, independent pharmacy committed to providing personal customer service. The drawing is on Dec. 5 or when 300 tickets are sold, whichever comes first.

Find out more about In-Sight Photography Project’s work and the Exposures program by calling 802-251-9960, emailing info@insight-photography.org, visiting 45 Flat Street, Suite 1 in Brattleboro, or visiting www.insight-photography.org. To find out more about John Willis, visit his website at www.jwillis.net. Brattleboro Pharmacy has a website at www.brattleboropharmacy.com. The information about Lakota star quilts came from www.aktalakota.org.