More than 20 years after Penobscot Nation artists Jason Brown and Donna Decontie Brown first began making and selling jewelry like Decontie & Brown, the couple has so far hung the pliers in favor of a more expansive, interdisciplinary way of making art.
Shortly after the pandemic began, Jason Brown threw his passion behind Firefly, a multimedia performing art project that has changed his artistic life in the last two years. Through music, video, dance and fashion, Brown creates an impressive live experience, drawing on the music and images of Wabanaki’s ancestors, but with a futuristic twist.
“It’s indigenous futurism,” he said. “Many people think of indigenous people as something ancient or from the past. They don’t see us as current and they certainly don’t see us as futuristic. But we are here, and we will be here. One of the reasons I’m doing this is to show it. “
The road to Firefly was long but inevitable. In 2016, Decontie & Brown began making clothing and jewelry accessories, appearing in fashion shows at major Native American art exhibitions such as the Santa Fe Native Market, the Heard Museum Guild in Phoenix, Arizona, and more locally in Abbeu Museum in the Port of Bar.
Brown created his own music for some of these shows, encouraging him to learn more about recording and creating soulful electronic rhythms with which to sing and drum. The songs themselves were already there, relying on ancient Wabanaki music he had learned many years ago from tribal elders.
“There’s a reason these tunes, these notes, these tunes have been around for thousands of years,” he said. “They may have changed a little over the generations, but the original power behind them is flowing through them. We just put our own taste into it and pass it on. It’s all part of the sequel to this 13,000-year-old circle of creativity. “
Although Brown and his wife and creative partner Decontie Brown achieved great success in making fine jewelry, when the pandemic broke out, it changed everything for them. All the exhibitions they normally traveled to in the spring, summer and fall have been canceled.
Bored and restless, Brown began leading live broadcasts in which he appeared singing and drumming over these rhythms, wearing some of the clothing designs he and Decontie Brown made, and setting up evocative lighting in dark purple, blue, red and green – colors inspired by the light of fireflies, auroras and the night sky in general.
His live broadcasts were popular right away, and Brown called the project Firefly. After a few months, it became very clear to him that this was the direction to go creatively. In 2021, he and Decontie Brown decided to start redirecting Decontie & Brown from exclusively jewelry and fashion, and therefore to being a “house of creativity” – a partnership that includes elements of design, music and video of their work.
“COVID was a tragedy, but it was also a big reset for so many people. It has made so many people rethink things in their lives, ”he said. “I know it was for me.”
Since then, Brown has released a number of songs as Firefly, releasing his debut album “Sacred Fire” last year. He has performed live across Maine and across the country, including several performances in Portland over the winter. In his live performances, he transforms spaces into glittering night wonderland and encourages the audience to participate in singing and rhythmic aspects.
Earlier this year, Brown also completed work as Firefly on a digital video art work called “WABANAVIA,” which explores not only his Wabanaki heritage but also Scandinavian roots, as he has ancestors from Sweden. The Portland Museum of Art purchased “WABANAVIA” in February as part of its permanent collection.
While Brown creates his music and visual elements, Donna Decontie Brown works with him on creating and performing live shows and managing their business, while working as the director of the Wabanaki Women’s Coalition. They were also busy turning their home and studio in Bangor into a hub of multimedia activities, and far from being a jewelry studio.
It’s not that Brown intends to give up jewelry making forever. That’s what got him started as an artist and what brought him on his way to Firefly.
“Just the other day I had to take out my tools so I could make a small repair to a piece I made a few years ago,” he said. “It’s nice to remember that I haven’t lost touch, even if my creativity is in second place now.”
Firefly will next perform on Saturday, June 18 on the Bangor Arts Exchange, as part of WERU-FM’s summer concert series. For more information, visit fireflythehybrid.com.