Rich Holschuh

Rich Holschuh

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BRATTLEBORO — A new initiative is set to shed more light on local Abenaki history and their existing culture via programming through Retreat Farm.

“This is an Abenaki word, A-T-O-W-I, and it means together in space and time,” Rich Holschuh, director of the Atowi Project, said during the Brattleboro Rotary Club meeting held remotely Thursday.

The cultural outreach organization will improve a trail at the Retreat Meadows and add signs telling the history of the area through “Abenaki eyes” among other projects, Holschuh said. An event in August at the farm announced the undertaking.

BRATTLEBORO — The entrance at Retreat Meadows on Route 30 now has a sign bearing the original name of the area, Wantastegok, which Sokoki Abenaki called home for 12,000 years. "That is the …

Holschuh said many people have lived in Brattleboro over the years and they all had stories that inform the experience of those who are living here today. He hopes to share some stories from the Abenaki in an upcoming exhibit at the Brattleboro Museum & Art Center.

Mara Williams, longtime curator at BMAC and Rotarian, said she selected the Endangered Alphabets Obelisk by Scott Boyd of Stowe to go into a sculpture garden at the south end of the museum building overlooking the bank of the Connecticut River with a view of Wantastiquet Mountain.

“These are alphabets from around the world, languages from around the world that are endangered or are going extinct,” Williams said. “And Rich and his colleagues have saved their language and pulled it forward.”

The artwork “incorporates characters, symbols, and scripts drawn from living, yet endangered, languages and their writing systems spanning the four corners of the world,” states “Due to shifting tides in politics, migration, armed conflict and developmental pressures, many of these unique writing systems and languages are on the verge of disappearing. While all writings on the obelisk are still in use today, some of these alphabets can now only be written by as few as five or so writers.”

The alphabets, the website says, “are wrapped around the wood of an Ash tree — a tree central to the native Vermont Abenaki story of creation. The Ash tree itself is now endangered due to the Emerald Ash Borer beetle.”

Williams called the exhibit’s location “a perfect place for a collaboration, where [Holschuh] interprets the land and I interpret a work of art in that land that brings language together.”

The sculpture will be installed May 7 and stay up until November. A celebration of the obelisk and all the other spring exhibits is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. May 15.

The museum has enjoyed partnerships with other groups such as the Brattleboro Retreat and Turning Point Recovery Center of Windham County, Williams said.

“Because when you’re using art in the context of the community,” she said, “the content of that art might spur you to create cross-community alliances and fruitful collaborations as well as amplify themes that are in the work.”

Williams first became acquainted with Holschuh during a ceremony for the “To the River” project, where banks along the Connecticut River that the museum overlooks were cleaned up and a mural was installed in 2016. Holschuh read a poem in an Abenaki language.

Earlier this year, the Brattleboro Words Project included stories from local community members. Holschuh contributed to the effort and spoke again with Williams at a related event.

“That’s when I first learned of the Atowi project,” Williams said. “It’s a community initiative to affirm native relationships to the land and its inhabitants, to raise Indigenous voices, and to foster inclusion and understanding in place.”

“Place is everything as far as I’m concerned,” Holschuh said. “If you do not understand how you are in relationship with the place that you live, how can you conduct yourself in any other business, any other place, with other people?”

Holschuh said he likes to think the Wantastiquet defines Brattleboro and helps community members understand where they live.

“This is a word that existed in almost its original form to this day for which I am grateful because most of these words are now hidden,” he said, referring to the name for the mountain used by the Sokoki Abenaki.

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