Peaks Island artist, illustrator and author Scott Kelley has started a nonprofit foundation that will make grants of up to $500 available to traditional Wabanaki artists so they can buy materials and supplies to continue making their art.

Kelley began the foundation following the publication last year of his children’s book “I am Birch,” which was based on the legendary Wabanaki figure Gluskap. “I felt as though I could not appropriate a Native American story and not figure out a way to give back,” he said.

Kelley has heard many stories about Wabanaki craftsmen and women who cannot afford to buy the materials they formerly gathered for free. For a variety of reasons, including the privatization of land and restrictions on land use, many artisans have lost access to traditional resources. Kelley hopes the foundation will help about five artists a year with cash grants so they can purchase materials and continue to make art.

“They can no longer walk onto a tidal plain and gather sweet grass, and they can’t walk out into the woods and cut down trees on other’s people’s property,” Kelley said. “You want to do something that is part of your cultural heritage but are prevented from doing it, and that seems like an incredibly sad turn of events.”

Kelley published two versions of “I am Birch.” Proceeds from both will support the foundation, which opened with a balance of about $11,000.

In addition to seeking applications from Wabanaki artists for the initial round of grants, the I Am Birch Foundation also is asking for cash donations to build the fund. Kelley will earmark proceeds from the sale of one of his paintings each year to the foundation, which has a small board to oversee the grant program.

The application deadline for the inaugural grant cycle is Oct. 1, and the first grants will be awarded in the fall.

For information about the foundation, or to apply or donate, visit iambirch.org.

The book “I am Birch” tells an imaginative story of a birch tree that’s been reduced to a stump by an eager beaver, who foments fear among forest animals by spreading rumors that cold and darkness will be coming soon. They forage and stockpile to prepare for the inevitable arrival of winter. The birch remains kind and wise, refusing to give into the fear and eventually growing new branches and helping to restore sanity to the woods.

The book grew out of a series of fanciful paintings of animals dressed in the clothing of Native American elders. The paintings were displayed in an exhibition and offered for sale. To keep the series of paintings intact, a collector challenged Kelley to make a book that included reproductions of the paintings.

To do so, Kelley created a verdant world for his fanciful animals to inhabit and began writing the text. The first edition, which Kelley created with designer Sean Wilkinson, coincided with the exhibition of the paintings at Dowling Walsh Gallery in Rockland. Islandport Press of Yarmouth picked up the book after the exhibition, asked Kelly for some refinements, and published a second version last spring.

Bob Keyes can be contacted at 791-6457 or at:

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