The longest-running Native America art show and competition in the state has returned to Tahlequah, where aficionados and dilettantes alike can see 127 pieces from 73 artists, representing 10 tribal nations.

There are only a couple of weeks left to check out the 50th Annual Trail of Tears Art Show and Sale, which features a myriad of works – from paintings to sculptures to Native regalia. It’s on display through July 31 in a temporary gallery in Cherokee Springs Plaza.

Cultural Tourism Curator Callie Chunestudy said this year’s show is particularly special, not only because of the anniversary and the new space, but because Cherokee Nation Cultural Tourism was able to support artists who were among the many groups to suffer from the pandemic, with galleries closed to the public.

“We weren’t able to have a public art show at all last year,” she said. “We did hold them virtually, but we weren’t able to have them in person. A lot of artists have struggled, especially those who are older and not very good with technology. If you’re used to packing up, driving to Santa Fe and that’s how you make your money for the fall, that wasn’t available.”

The pandemic did spur advancement in technology, however, which may have helped Trail of Tears artists this year sell some of their work. Chunestudy said because of the bigger focus on bringing the show online, sales have improved. Those who visit the show will notice pink dots – a sign someone has purchased the item – on many of the works.

The gallery features photographs, water-color paintings, acrylic paintings, digital art prints, pencil drawings, carvings, ceramics, baskets, jewelry, dresses, sculptures and more. The artists competed for more than $15,000 in various categories.

“I don’t envy judges,” Chunestudy said. “It’s a tough decision and really hard to pick a favorite. You can look at some things objectively – the quality, the craftsmanship and the execution. But at the end of the day, it can also be pretty subjective.”

Vivian Cottrell was awarded the grand prize for her woven basket, “We Are Still Here.” Although baskets are typically featured every year in the show, this was the first time for a basket to receive top honors.

“Vivian is one of our Cherokee National Treasures, but of course, the judges don’t know that,” Chunestudy said. 

“The quality of the weave and the message of the title speaks not only to Native American concerns, but just the time we’re in. Being a National Treasure, she’s one of the best at what she does.”

Cottrell has been weaving for around 49 years, and said it meant a lot of receive the grand prize this year.

“There’s a lot of prayer that goes into my work, and this piece is no different,” she said. “It was the first one of the year for me, coming out of the pandemic, and I wanted to push myself to create something that represents the strength and resilience of Native people across the country who were being affected by the virus at disproportionate rates. There’s several meaningful patterns incorporated into the basket, but at the end of the day, it’s all about us being connected to one another for our survival.”

Check it out

Aficionados can see the Trail of Tears Art Show and Sale Tuesday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., at the Cherokee National Research Center in Cherokee Springs Plaza, down the sidewalk from Newk’s Eatery. The show can also be seen online by visiting visitcherokeenation.com.

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