Uniting the traditions of the past with visions of the future defines the 42nd Annual Trail of Tears Art Show at the Cherokee Heritage Center.
The American Indian artwork exhibit opened Friday evening, and will be displayed until May 27. The show features many tribal artists who are focusing their creative genres on their own ideas of tradition.
“The importance of this event is to help with our mission to preserve, promote and teach Cherokee history and culture,” said Cheryl Parrish, interim executive director of the Cherokee Heritage Center. “Showcasing art is a way to accomplish that. We always look forward to this event to see the beautiful artwork. We are always inspired at the quality and variety of the cultural art we receive.”
According to Parrish, independent judges come from the art community. The panel is predominately made up of regional artists who have no entries in the show.
In this year’s art show, there were 79 artists from 14 tribes for a total of 168 pieces. The pieces were divided into eight categories: pottery, jewelry, miniature, basketry, Trail of Tears, graphics, sculpture and painting.
Each category had first-, second- and third-place winners, as well as some honorable mentions. This year’s Grand Prize winner was Troy Jackson, for his piece, “Waiting on the Tractor.”
This year there will also be a People’s Choice award. Votes for this special award will be collected at the Cherokee Heritage Center, and on its Facebook page. Voting continues throughout the showing and ends May 27.
This year’s art show exemplifies cultural variety, and those attending the opening Friday evening agreed.
“Everything catches my eye,” said Emma Washee. “It’s really neat because of all the different artists who have the talent that I don’t have.”
Washee’s beamed with pride an excitement, as a drawing by her brother was selected for the show.
“The art show is important to our community, because it shows throughout time how the old ones’ ways have come about,” said Washee.
Nadine Washee Hundelt, Washee’s mother, enjoyed the visual display of traditions.
“It’s a wonderful show because of the sheer talent of what’s in the exhibit,” Hundelt said. “It’s amazing. This art show keeps the traditions growing. It shows that traditions are kept alive and are passed on. That makes me proud as a Native American.”
Krista Wolfe, who visits the show annually, said her husband had a piece selected for this year’s event.
“It’s important to support the artists any way you can, as well as the Cherokee Heritage Center,” Wolfe said. “The show keeps the traditions alive.”
Elizabeth Higgins recently moved to the area, which allowed her to attend the show for the first time in many years.
Higgins said the exhibit is grand on a lot of levels because the public can enjoy the work and support the artists at the same time.
“The art show is the perpetuation of the culture in so many forms,” said Higgins. “It might inspire someone to try [creating art]. I take pride this is a part of our culture.”
Dannielle Herbert, an elder member of the Cherokee Historical Society who lives in Upper Peninsula, Mich., paid her first visit to both Tahlequah and the art show. She said seeing the native artwork made her feel awestruck and overwhelmed.
“I can’t believe it,” Herbert said. “This trip is a lifetime dream of mine. We have to carry this on to our youth. Our elders are so important in making tradition important to them.”
Anna Smith, board member of the Cherokee Heritage Center, was visiting from North Carolina. She attends the art show regularly. She feels the art speaks to her spirit, and pointed out the idea that everyone has his or her own artistic talents.
“The art is a celebration of the spirit,” said Smith. “It’s important to preserve the past things, like basketry and pottery, because they tell the artist’s story of the past. It also embraces the stories of the youth and celebrates their stories.”
Cherokee Nation Supreme Court Justice Troy Wayne Poteete was a judge in this year’s art show.
“[The show] encourages the Cherokee artists to develop their skills, because it helps market their work,” said Poteete. “We have some very talented artists represented here.”
Cherokee beading artist Kathy Robinson has her pins in the showcase. She believes supporting native artists is important to the culture and community.
“We [artists] represent a small portion of the tribe, and this is important for the promotion of our artists,” said Robinson.
Jewelry artist Teri Rhoades, who has several pieces exhibited, believes promoting young artists is important because it makes yesterday’s traditions relevant and beautiful today.
“Our show is important in this area because, for many years, people all over the country, even here, thought Southwestern art was all there was to native art,” said Rhoades. “We inspire each other to research our art and traditions. Now there’s a resurgence. We’re proud to be who we are.”
Besides an art show and an art sale, the Trail of Tears Art Show is an art competition. Cherokee Heritage Center Curator Mikel Yantz is responsible for appointing the judges.
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