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Although she’s much too humble to say so herself, Sarah Agaton Howes (Anishinaabe) is a force to be reckoned with. She creates beautiful, intricate beadwork art on moccasins and other products. She also runs ultra-marathons with Kwe Pack, a running group she founded to connect with other indigenous women wanting to make healthy lifestyle changes. In addition, she teaches beadwork to community members. For her art, teaching, and community organizing efforts, Howes was recently named one of the Duluth News Tribune’s “20 Under 40”. We recently spoke with Sarah to learn more about how working with Eighth Generation has influenced her business.
In November of 2014, Eighth Generation selected Howes as the second artist to participate in our Inspired Natives Project. Through Louie Gong’s guidance, she was able to develop her own website, create social media strategy, expand her digital art skills, and launch her own business, House of Howes. Howes says Louie has helped her push beyond her comfort zone. “Louie is extremely driven, yet patient. He will walk me through the tiniest steps of a computer page, even while I know he's getting ready to make a gift for the President of China. This is true mentorship, and I am extremely grateful for it.”
Since beginning this partnership, Howes says her arts-related income has tripled, and she’s now able to work more efficiently now that she has an inventory of products. “Before I did mostly custom work, dropping off earrings in parking lots, hustling one pair of earrings at a time…Now I can show up for powwows, conferences, events with a full stock of Inspired Natives gear.” Through Eighth Generation, Howes offers earrings, phone cases, and t-shirts.
Howes also notes that her association with Louie Gong and the Inspired Natives Project has increased her business’ legitimacy. “People take me seriously as an artist, designer, and business person…It is a huge honor and a responsibility I am humbled to have.” With this boost to credibility, she has also received more opportunities to share her knowledge with the community through teaching beadwork classes, fulfilling a lifelong goal.
As an Inspired Natives Project artist, Howes’ work has spread dramatically due to Eighth Generation’s media work. Howes says she’s always curious when she gets orders from people and places she’s never seen. “I always want to ask them ‘How did you hear about House of Howes?’" Although her reach has expanded considerably, her main customer base is still her local community. “People here love what we are doing with Ojibwe floral [designs] and bringing [them] out in many different forms. My friends, family, and larger social network are extremely supportive.”
Working with the Inspired Natives Project has not only increased Howes’ business knowledge, but her knowledge of her own community as well. Howes’ work prominently features traditional florals, like the dogwood flower (right: Florence Burnside, Anishinaabe, wearing dogwood flower design. 1950's Photo Courtesy of Janelle Zuech) that appears on many of her products. Howes remembers seeing the dogwood design growing up, and notes that people in her moccasin classes are drawn to it. After Louie asked about the story behind Howes’ florals, she sought answers from tribal elders who taught her that florals in beadwork were used to pass on cultural knowledge about medicines during a time when traditional medicines were outlawed. Howes’ beadwork also conveys healing through her signature odemin, or heart berry design. “It has become a source for much poetry and thought. I have needed heart healing over the past 10 years as I'm sure many other people do. People love strawberries. There is a reason for these things. I love this mystery.”
Howes’ wool "Restoration" blanket (below) – featuring the dogwood flower and heart berry – will be available in January 2016 on both the Eighth Generation website and the House of House website.
Howes’ favorite part of working with Eighth Generation? She’ll tell you: “It is so exciting to be on the edge of something when everything is changing. It is personally, professionally, and creatively thrilling – and a little scary.” Howes’ family is in a time of transition, as her young ones are starting school, so she’s glad her art is gaining recognition and her business is gaining momentum. “I love seeing how our art, our aesthetic, really excites people. I love the feeling of going to an event and seeing people all over with my work on them…This project is taking me full force into the future.”