A quillwork sculpture of a turn-of-the-century Lakota woman cradling her baby brought Jamie Okuma her third Best of Show win at the 91st Annual Santa Fe Indian Market on Friday.
Known for her intricately beaded figures, Okuma took the top prize at the Santa Fe Community Convention Center preview luncheon honoring Best of Classifications in pottery, jewelry, painting, textiles and sculpture, as well as other diverse art forms. Organizers say the artists represent more than 150 pueblos and tribes. This year, the market expanded the categories to add an award for innovation, as well as special awards.
Okuma was just 22 when she claimed her first Best of Show in 2000; a second followed in 2002.
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Designed with the dizzying geometrics of traditional Lakota dress, Okuma’s piece includes tiny dangling earrings and rings of bracelets in a palette of red, black, white and a touch of blue. She designed the clothing after scouring old pictures. The quills come from live porcupines; Okuma stitches them together.
While she once focused on beadwork and the movement of dancers, this time Okuma decided to spotlight quillwork. The piece incorporates four different techniques.
Okuma is Luiseño-Shoshone Bannock, but she created the piece in the Lakota style. “They are, in my opinion, the best quill workers,” she said, between a stream of admirers offering her congratulatory hugs.
“I consider myself a contemporary artist,” she said. “I don’t think I can be a contemporary Native American without a very strong traditional background. It’s so exciting to win with one of the most traditional pieces I’ve ever done.”
Seventy judges awarded more than $100,000 in prize money to 1,025 artists at the market preview. The largest and most prestigious event of its kind in the U.S., organizers say the market draws 100,000 collectors from across the globe to shop and meet the artists at 716 booths sprawling across 14 city blocks.
Arthur Holmes Jr., (Hopi) won for Best of Classification for his katsina “Brothers Forever.” Carved from cottonwood root, one figure carries another, who is paralyzed. The carrier is blind. “We all have someone — it may not be your blood brother; it may be a friend — who’s always there through the very hardest times,” Holmes said.
Holmes knows about hard times; he once struggled with addiction. He says he’s been clean and sober since 2003.
“I have a good friend who is there during the very hardest times,” he said. “He just checked up on my wife and kids.”
Holmes began carving as part of Hopi ceremony when his daughter was born. He learned from his father, Arthur Holmes Sr., and his uncle, Stetson Honyumptewa, last year’s Best of Show winner.
“You have to make a katsina for your kids,” he said.
Angela Babby (Oglala Lakota Sioux) created a haunting glass and enamel portrait of Medicine Bottle, a Dakota who was hanged after the 1862 Minnesota Uprising.
“He was one of 38 hung in the largest execution in the American U.S.,” Babby said.
In 2002, Babby spotted a tiny photograph of Medicine Bottle as he awaited execution
“It’s the most tragic pose that I’ve ever seen captured,” she said. “He had to have been sitting there for a long time.”
Babby studied at Portland’s Bullseye Glass, considered the leader in making fused glass. “I always thought their colors were the best,” she said.
She paints the shadows and shapes with enamel. Ghostly figures march through a gauzy background. The floating shapes represent smallpox. She researched the figures through old photographs of buffalo hide calendars or “winter counts.” Every year, the tribe would create pictorial representations of the most memorable events of the year.
“That figure is just profound to me,” she said. “I wanted it to be about facing death and remembering the people you lost.”
Eastern Band Cherokee Shan Goshorn won an innovation award for a basket woven from paper printed with reproductions of the Indian Removal Act of 1830. The law allowed the U.S. government to remove Native Americans from their homelands. Goshorn created it in the double weave style with interior splints. She wove the outside using her own double-exposed, hand-tinted black and white photograph. She made her first basket in 2008.
“The first piece I did ended up in the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian,” she said. She uses a double0-weave technique, then finishes the piece at the bottom.
Lisa Holt (Cochiti) and Harlan Reano (Santo Domingo) took the prize for Best in Pottery for their labyrinth of black lines on an earth-toned jar. Holt makes pottery using the traditional coil method; Reano paints the designs.
Martha “Appleleaf” Fender (San Ildefonso) won for Best Traditional Pueblo Pottery for a black-on-black bowl polished to a mirror finish.
“I was supposed to have back surgery” today, she said. “But I cancelled. Boy, am I glad.”
Lola Cody (Navajo) took a best in textiles for an enormous and dazzling Two Grey Hills rug. She learned to weave by watching her mother at age 5.
The massive, 7-1/2-by-10-foot rug took her six months to weave. The naturally colored wool came from her own herd of Churro sheep. “It’s all hand-spun,” she said.
Cody uses no pattern for her designs. She set herself a “quota” of 4 inches per week. The geometric patterns cover every inch of the weaving.
“One of my aunts says she gets dizzy looking at it,” Cody said.
Her husband built her loom, she said. “He was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease,” she added, her eyes welling. “That’s why it’s touching.”
Amelia Joe Chandler (Navajo) won Best Contemporary Sculpture for a miniature copper teapot.
Susan Folwell took the $5,000 Tammy Garcia Award for Excellence for her multicolored vase. Debuting this year, the award is second in prize money only to Best in Show. “I love her combination of very traditional materials incorporating modern materials,” said Garcia, herself a renowned potter. “I love that there’s no limits. The second I put a limit on myself, I break it. This is to encourage artists to not be afraid.”