An award-winning touring exhibition created and designed by photographer Tracey Schmidt.  Based on interviews and photographs of native American people, The Awakening of Turtle Island: Portraits of Native Americans has toured regionally to over sixteen museums and cultural centers since its’ premiere in Atlanta in 1996.  At its’ premiere The Awakening of Turtle Island won the coveted Regional Designation Award in the Humanities, along with the Gwinnett Fine Arts Center, as part of the Cultural Olympiad.

Sometimes dreams are wiser than waking.

                                 —Nicholas Black Elk, Lakota

Seeking to create an intimate glimpse into native people’s lives, this exhibit explores the beauty, sacredness, and spiritual re-awakening of people struggling to revitalize and preserve their important and immense gifts. Turtle Island is the Iroquois name for the North American continent. The name The Awakening of Turtle Island therefore means the awakening of America. The impetus for The Awakening of Turtle Island is based on the observation that there is in America today a growing awareness both of our delicate relationship with the environment and of the original Native Americans who viewed themselves as an integral part of nature and as its stewards. This awareness is a part of the rebirth we are all experiencing, as we discover that our present day dilemma leaves us searching for something real, inclusive, and whole. The Awakening of Turtle Island is a celebration of our common inheritance with this country’s indigenous citizens and a reminder of the importance of spiritually based environmental awareness to all of us. Recently freed (1978) to worship as their ancestors did, native Americans are undergoing their own culture reawakening and among other things, reviving their bonds with nature. The Awakening of Turtle Island is designed to enhance appreciation for native American culture. It is a time of looking to the future with hope, dignity and some sense of stability, even in the face of today’s endemic uncertainty. As an American, I feel that cross-cultural exchange is not only important, but vital to create a deepening understanding of each other’s place in “the Sacred Hoop”, or the Circle of Life. Without we remain ignorant, isolated, and fearful.

I gratefully acknowledge the generosity, warmth, openness and sincerity of the native people who have shared their stories, time, and hearts with me. It gives me great joy to share with you.

click on an image to view and read interview


Select Solo Exhibits:

  • Tryon Arts Center, Tryon, NC  2010
  • University of NC at Asheville, Asheville, NC 2009
  • Cherokee Museum, Cherokee, NC, Summer 2000, 2001, 2002
  • McMinn Living Heritage History Museum, Athens, Tenn  2000
  • Rheinhardt College Bennett Native American Museum, Waleska, GA 1999-2000
  • Bureau of Cultural Affairs Atlanta Hartsfield Airport 1999
  • University of Georgia,  Tate gallery, Athens, GA  1998
  • Kituwah National Native American Festival, Asheville, NC  1998
  • Blue Ridge Arts Association, Blue Ridge, GA  1998
  • Spartanburg County Museum of Art, Spartanburg, SC  1998
  • Thomasville Cultural Center,  Thomasville, GA   1998
  • The Chieftain’s Native American Museum, Rome, GA  1997
  • Olympic Opening:  Festival of Fire, Gwinnett Fine Arts Center,  Atlanta, GA  1996
  • Emory University, Schatten Gallery, Atlanta, GA 1995