How to Keep One’s Roots – Day 105

[Today’s featured artwork for Day 105 of the 365 Days Project is by Lenny Novak.]

Mule Deer Antler Dreamcatcher by Lenny Novak
Mule Deer Antler by Lenny Novak. Photo courtesy ©Lenny Novak.

How do we keep the roots of our culture, our traditions as we move forward in the contemporary world?

#105 – The Artist Mind is always moving towards innovation. Keeping the roots of tradition while moving forward is a delicate balancing act.

Artists are always pushing boundaries. Some  will even take a traditional craft and transform it into a work of fine art.

I have always admired Native American dreamcatchers and spent a year researching the tradition of this craft to get to the roots of how they were originally made. Depending on the tribe, most used animal sinew for the web and willow for the “hoop,” although artificial sinew has now replaced the real version.

Then I came across Lenny Novak’s dreamcatchers and was impressed not only by his innovative webs, but how they played with the positive and negative space in his sculptural pieces which are created from antlers. These were no ordinary catchers of dreams.

Lenny “Lonewolf” Novak has been making art since he was just out of his teens, but it took him a long time to actually consider himself an artist. It wasn’t until later in his life that he became fully aware of the creative traditions of his cultural roots. “When I was very young,” said Novak, “our Elders had whispered we had Native blood in our family. No one ever said much more than that. That was in the 1950s, so no one wanted to elaborate much.”

Dreamcatcher by Lenny Novak
Dreamcatcher by Lenny Novak. Photo courtesy ©Lenny Novak.

One day, Novak was invited to a Native American Pow Wow where he saw his first dreamcatcher, made with grapevine and fishing line. “When I got home from the Pow Wow I thought ‘how neat’”, he said, “so I found a branch and tried to make my own dreamcatcher using imitation sinew. My web was actually a mistake to start with. I tried to create one like everyone else but did not know how, so I did it the only way I thought it should work. Well, it did work but it was a web like no one had ever seen, and so my signature style was born.”

Novak then started collecting every willow tree branch he could find and started making willow hoops with the help of his sister, creating as many dreamcatchers as he could. “We would spend a week making hoops that would dry for a year before we could use them. I could not create a very tight web however – many times I would be on my last knot and the tension from the imitation sinew would snap the hoop and I’d have to toss it. I finally got smart and started to use antler for the webs and a much tighter, smaller web emerged.”

Whitetail Deer Antler Dreamcatcher by Lenny Novak
Whitetail Deer Antler by Lenny Novak. Photo courtesy ©Lenny Novak.

Novak’s web has evolved over the years but there is one rule that never changes: it always has to have a curve to it. He has recently discovered a new way to create a web that he calls the “Lonewolf Star,” which is a web that is suspended from several points. “I drew it on a paper to see what it might look like,” he said. “it took two tries to get it to stay where I wanted it to be, but it took all my tricks from the past 20+ years of working with imitation sinew to have it come out right.”

If you ever met Novak in person, you might never think he was able to create such fine work. “I’m the size of a professional football player,” he said. “Wherever I go, people are always fascinated by the size of my hands, and they think that big hands can’t do the kind of work I do.” But he does, and he does it very well.

Web (closeup) by Lenny Novak
Web (closeup) by Lenny Novak. Photo courtesy ©Lenny Novak.

“The web has a life of its own,” said Novak, “and I am very honored it has come into my life. Even though my work is contemporary Native art I still try to follow traditional ways. When I set up my holes to make the webs, I always drill North – South – East – West first, then add the remaining holes after. The four directions are very important in my culture and I do my best to follow that.”

“The web has been a journey, and along the way it has been involved in many people’s lives,” he continued. “I have had people tell me that when they got a divorce, the dreamcatcher was written into the divorce papers as to who got to keep it. Some people have been buried with my work. And it has been offered as a present at several weddings.”

This is what I appreciate about Lenny Novak’s dreamcatchers. He has taken a tradition that comes from deep within his own roots and allowed an unintentional transformation to lead him on a new path, yet he remains true to the core of his traditions while continuing to offer exciting discoveries both for himself as an artist and the people who appreciate his art.

SerenaK signature

Full Reindeer Antler Dreamcatcher by Lenny Novak
Full Reindeer Antler by Lenny Novak. Photo courtesy ©Lenny Novak.

Lenny Novak’s artwork can be viewed at: Lone Wolf Studio.

Descriptions of the images included in this article:
Mule Deer Antler
Lenny “Lonewolf” Novak, New Hampshire
Mule deer antler, imitation sinew, feather, burl base

Whitetail Deer Antler
Lenny “Lonewolf” Novak, New Hampshire
Whitetail deer antler, imitation sinew, feather, burl base

Full Reindeer Antler
Lenny “Lonewolf” Novak, New Hampshire
Reindeer antler, imitation sinew, feather, burl base

The 365 Days Project

In 2012, Serena Kovalosky committed to writing an article a day for 365 days as an exploration into the lives of artists and the value of creative thinking in our society.

Experience the full evolution of the project! Click below to read the entire collection of articles.

Click to view The 365 Days Project

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