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Grand Rapids in 1856

Scene of early Grand Rapids viewed from the...

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Odawa Tradition

by James Davis

Why does such a Spartan house—tiny, rustic, crude—elicit the response that it does? Brent leans back in the rocker. “My history goes far back in my native Odawa culture,” he says. “What I learned, I learned from my father, Kemo Ahmicasaube, (pictured right) and his father before him, who lived in a house about this size.

“When you look at all the different aspects of this little house you sense the intelligence and craftsmanship that went into all the original pieces. You know that someone shaped and touched every board, every piece of wood. Someone spent time carving details into the moldings. Someone created the colored glass, and another bent over a forge to create the iron stove and the kerosene cooking range. Each of these materials was set aside to be burned or tossed into a landfill. We saved it, re-purposed it, and gave each one a new life. Now each element has a new history, and new people worked with it. Each of these parts, once designated as trash, forms a living, organic whole.

pictures 10/20/2010 ArtPrize“In the tradition of the Odawa culture, the Manitou is a term used to designate the spirits. It refers to the concept of one aspect of the interconnection and balance of nature/life. This spirit is seen as a (contactable) person as well as a concept. Everything has its own Manitou—every plant, every stone, even machines. The Manitou of ’10 Simply Salvage evolved from the community effort that went into its creation and gave the salvaged material new life.

“It was just an idea in the beginning,” Brent says. “My partner, Tad Caswell, got involved in a casual way, then became a full-fledged partner on the project. I live in the East Hills neighborhood of Grand Rapids. It seemed that everyone got involved. People just showed up to help. We didn’t ask them, it was just through work of mouth.

“The entire house represents more than salvaged materials. It has come to mean a salvaged spirit for many who visit, who have forgotten the value in working together, who have forgotten the value of useful items that, in the right hands, can again find meaning and purpose. The house shares its Manitou with them and they smile.

“I think that the ancestors are proud of our work here,” Brent says quietly.

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