Cynthia “Listens to the Wind” Ross Meeks, a direct descendent of Massasoit, holds degrees from the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD), and taught art in the Providence Public School system for over 20 years. Her solo exhibit In Flight is on display at the Atrium Gallery. Chloë Gardiner of the Tomaquag Museum in Exeter interviewed the artist for Providence Monthly about her love of fashion, connection to birds, and upcoming show.
Providence Monthly: Have you always
Cynthia Ross Meeks: Art ran all through my family – writers, poets, and both my mother and grandmother were seamstresses; I began sewing at the age of six. In the sixth grade, I found out about RISD and knew that was where I wanted to go for college.
PM: How did you land in the classroom?
CRM: I studied education at RISD, received my Bachelor of Fine Arts, and studied fashion design. A woman who taught at RISD in the Continuing Education department told me about an open position in the school system for a class called Crazy Hats and Costume Design. I got the job and got them to change the focus to young fashion designers. I taught students how to design jewelry and clothing using culture as a theme. I was sure to make the kids know that we are all part of this world and how important Native art is to the whole picture.
PM: How do you convey cultural and natural beliefs of Indigenous peoples through your art?
CRM: The bird is my spirit guide and I became very focused on listening to birds and observing them. I always told my students how important animals are to Native people. I got a chance to do an art show called Eagles Speak about two eagles talking together. One is a Native American eagle, our national bird, and the other eagle is native to Zimbabwe. I used it as a metaphor for how the Native American and the African cultures came together here in Rhode Island to become one family.
PM: How do you pick subjects for your art?
CRM: If you see my pieces, you’re gonna say, did you plan these? The answer is no, not one piece. I start with a base object like a buffalo horn or another natural object, because I may like the colors, as a focal point. Then I start to build around it. I’ll never not be in fashion, so fashion comes into it, too.
PM: Tell us about your solo exhibition, In Flight.
CRM: I have 45 pieces, and if I can get 30 in there, I’ll be happy. I’ll have quotes about nature from everyone from Anne Frank to Maya Angelou, Einstein, Van Gogh, and Shakespeare. I want to shine a light on the beauty of nature and share my appreciation for what we have around us.
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