In recent weeks, I have been in contact with Dorothy M. Speiser, either by email or on the phone. We featured her first painting of my cousin Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha in an article in our magazine Késsinnimek - Roots - Racines a year ago in April 2005. I am reprinting here:
Flower of the Algonquins
Lily of the Mohawks
‘‘Kateri Lily of the Mohawks’ #1
by Dorothy M. Speiser Watercolor on paper
All rights reserved to Dorothy M. Speiser
Reprinted with permission of the artist
If you visit my website dedicated to my cousin Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha, you will find copies of many paintings of this Native American saint.
However, the above recent acquisition, sent to me by Richard Aubrey Payne, and with the artist's permission to use in my site, is the most beautiful and the closest portrayal of who, in my opinion, is the real Tekakwitha.
Kateri is so serene, deep in thoughtful meditation, clutching Rosary Beads with the shining cross - a series of prayers taught by her mother and then by the Black Robes. Study the background to notice the Holy Spirit, descending from above and surrounded by a blazing light, He who enlightened her throughout her life - about whom her mother, Wahwahsekona, Fleur-de-la-Prairie or Prairie Flower, taught her at a very early age. One of the wings of the Dove is connecting to Jesus on the Cross - whom Tekakwitha carried with her, believing that the Son of God died for her and for her sins (she was innocence itself).
Tekakwitha is surrounded by the forest - the French word "sauvage", taken from the latin, meant "people of the forest". Birch bark was undoubtedly used for the canoe that rescued her from her Mohawk tormentors and finally brought her to the "praying village" in New France - the country of her Algonquin mother.
At her feet one can see sweetgrass, the fragrance in a smudging by which our prayers are purified and lifted to the Great Spirit. And there are lilies, the symbol of her paternal Mohawk heritage and as a flower of her maternal Algonquin ancestry. In the background are pine trees, among which there are certainly "cedar", also used in the smudging purification.
The watercolors are subdued like her personality and her surroundings, colors of the forest and its people, with the blazing white light just beyond her head teaching her about the Great Spirit and His enlightment.
It is appropriate that I feature this painting in this issue of our magazine, because April is the month in which two important events took place in the life of my cousin Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha.
She was baptized on Easter Sunday, April 18, 1676.
She died on Wednesday of Holy Week, April 17, 1680.
The Catholic Church in Canada celebrates Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha's holy day on April 17, the day of her death. In the United States, it is celebrated on July 14.
Norm Léveillée, Ed.
Since that time, Dorothy has painted a second watercolor of my cousin. It is featured in Rickard Payne's article for this April 2006. I am duplicating just the section dealing with Lily of the Mohawks #2 by Dorothy:
‘‘Kateri Lily of the Mohawks’ #2 by: Dorothy M. Speiser
Watercolor on paper
All rights reserved to Dorothy M. Speiser
In this second Dot Speiser effort she went back to the painting by Father Claude Chauachetiere and showed the painting for hours on end, and prayed to God that she could capture a more faithful likeness of the Mohawk maiden. She wanted to capture a more modern styled painting but she wanted to try to make her look more like she may have actually looked, more true to her Native American Mohawk heritage. The clothing is simple and more primitive. The lilies seem to be much more fitting and appropriate, as is the simple wooden cross. She decided to exchange the Aspen trees for a rich darker brown oak, more true to New York State. The beautiful dove is something Dot feels very strongly belongs in the painting. Most people who have seen it truly love it. Norm told me it is one of the most beautiful images of his beloved cousin he has every seen. It seems to be the reaction of everyone who sees it.
As author of this article, I would like to add my perception of this most beautiful painting.
I believe, as I did for the first Lily of the Mohawks #1 that Dorothy has accurately captured who and what Tekakwitha was and continues to be for many of us. Her face is serene and yet one can see the pochmarks that remained on her face as a result of the smallpox epidemic of 1660 in her village of Ossernenon (today, North American Martyrs Shrine in Auriesvielle, NY). The Holy Spirit plays an important part in this painting, as It did throughout Tekakwitha's life. Having received a sound and basic preparation in Christianity - Catholicism from her Algonquin Mother - Wahwahsekona during the first five years of her life, she was directly influence by the Holy Spirit and then through the Black Robes who increased this preparation and devotion to the One True Creator that Tekakwitha worshipped throughout her life. The trees again serve as a background for this sauvage - person of the forest. Sewn on her robe, above her heart, is a scapular with the figure of the Turtle, her clan in the Mohawk village. The Lily has always been associated with Tekakwitha, since she was considered as white as this Flower - a symbol of sinlessness and purity. She carries her simple wooden Cross as the armor of her Christianity. One cannot see the rosary beads, that Kateri always carried with her, as Dorothy wanted to concentrate on the face of my cousin Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha. I am sure that the beads are hanging from her hands clasped around the Cross.
Dorothy has created a masterpiece once again in this second Lily of the Mohawks. I am very fortunate to have in my possession the "#1" print of this masterpiece Lily of the Mohawks #2. It has the place of prominence in our home. Print #4 of the first Lily of the Mohawks adorns my study, in full view and as an inspiraton while I work on my computer. (Norm)