Arcadia University’s Angelina Brewer ’23 Weaves Tradition, Sacred Herbs into Ceramics

By Dan DiPrinzio | April 20, 2023

Angelina Brewer ’23 left her home on the Ojibwe Native American reservation in Wisconsin to return to Arcadia’s campus in the fall of 2021, the first semester after the outbreak of the COVID pandemic, knowing that she needed to take another art studio class for her Art History major. 

Instead of a painting or drawing class, which she had already successfully completed in previous semesters, she decided to take Ceramics. 

It’s a decision that changed her entire educational journey and her future goals. 

“When I started to make the ceramics, I realized that I wasn’t stressed out or overthinking anything like I do when I’m painting or drawing,” said Brewer. “It just felt very natural. I knew I could make anything if I really put my heart into it.”

She quickly changed her major to Ceramics and will graduate this spring. This last semester, however, Brewer is putting more than her heart into it.

Growing up on the reservation, Brewer learned at an early age about the tradition and history of Native American life in the U.S. For her senior Capstone project, Brewer will incorporate some of that rich tradition into her ceramics. 

“I’m basing my thesis on the medicine wheel, which shows the four directions of the wind and the four cycles of life,” Brewer said. 

Within those four quadrants, Brewer will mix in and incorporate four different sacred medicines — Tobacco, Sage, Cedar, and Sweet Grass. 

“It’s a representation of more than what you just see around you or what you buy at a metaphysical shop,” Brewer said. “There is a deeper meaning to these sacred medicines than what are represented in today’s society.” 

In Native American culture, tobacco has traditionally been used for spiritual and medicinal purposes. It can be used for prayer, healing, and ceremonies. Sage is traditionally seen as a purifying herb and can be used to ward off evil influences. Cedar is also purifying and can be used for prayer, healing, dreams, and protection against disease. Sweet grass is associated with healing, peace, and spirituality. In many Native American cultures, it is left by a gravesite of a loved one or a sacred place. 

“I’m really excited for this project and other projects I am working on as well,” Brewer said. “Professor Gregg Moore is the one I talked to in my original ceramics class and helped me with changing my major. He’s been one of my biggest cheerleaders and supporters and is always teaching me about new styles, firing techniques, and a lot more.”

Brewer has plans to attend the Institute of American Indian Art in New Mexico for her master’s degree in ceramics after graduating from Arcadia. Once completed, she plans to move back to the reservation with her partner to teach ceramics to the people living there. 

“When I was growing up, there were ceremonies, pow-wows… so much tradition,” Brewer said. “The reservation has lost that in recent years. There are so many issues that contribute to this, and I think part of this loss of tradition and is the younger generations not wanting to be a part of it.”

“We need something new to merge with the original traditions,” she added. “I think going back and teaching ceramics and incorporating these sacred medicines can help.”