What black ash and sweetgrass can do for you: Secord holds one of her award-winning baskets.

Preview of the Santa Fe Indian Market

Debra Utacia Krol
8/12/11

The third week in August always brings a whirlwind of parties, exhibitions, screenings, concerts, fashion shows and clothing contests to Santa Fe, as well as a good bit of general revelry, all of it leading up to the main event: the Santa Fe Indian Market (SFIM). The 90th annual edition of this two-day market, starting on Saturday, August 20, will feature more than 1,100 artists and draw some 100,000 visitors—artists and art fans, yes, as well as filmmakers (for the Native Cinema Showcase, a film festival) and skateboarders (for Skateploitation III, a competition sponsored by Apache Skateboards). A market that had humble beginnings in the 1920s at the Museum of New Mexico—it was a component of the Santa Fe Fiesta, which it now dwarfs—is now a worldwide celebration of all things Native run by the Southwestern Association of Indian Artists (SWAIA), and collectors have been known to sit outside their favorite artist’s booth all night to ensure they have first choice of the newest works.

From among the multitalented multitude of artists displaying and selling at SFIM this year, we’ve spotlighted five visionaries—including two very young ones, who represent the tantalizing future of Native art.

THE POSTER CHILDREN: Myleka and Tulane John, Navajo
Myleka Nizhoni John, 12, and her brother Tulane Nataanii, 13, are the 2011 Santa Fe Indian Market’s poster artists, figuratively and literally—the talented Navajo duo was chosen to create a special work of art that epitomized the spirit of the market as it enters its 90th year. They are the children of sculptor and painter Alvin John and are related to painter and former SFIM poster artist David K. John, and grew up in the Native-art business.

Myleka says she was very excited to be chosen for this honor. “We had to apply to be poster artists,” she says. “My brother and I entered five pieces, and the judges chose my entry, which has four circles.” SWAIA officials then asked Myleka to work with her brother to create a unique work of art for this year’s poster. She created a painting to set off brother Tulane’s offering, a mask built from Lego blocks. “My parents are also very excited about us being chosen,” says Myleka, who has been painting since the age of 7. “This is the first time that Santa Fe has done a kids poster.”

"Father," by Marla Allison

This is just the latest honor for Myleka; she has won other awards at local art shows, including SFIM and the Gallup Ceremonial. Myleka, who is entering eighth grade this year, says she’s preparing to attend art school. “I’ll get to learn more stuff,” says the poised preteen.

Tulane will be a freshman at Monument Valley High School (the John family moved to Monument Valley after living in Phoenix for several years) and has also won multiple youth art awards.

JAMIE OF THE DOLLS: Jamie Okuma, Luiseño/Shoshone-Bannock
Jamie Okuma says she has a soft spot for the Santa Fe Indian Market, in part because she won her first best of show award here when she was just 22. Okuma has won two other best of show awards—at SFIM 2002 and at the 46th Heard Indian Fair & Market in 2004—for her extraordinary Shoshone bride and groom dolls, which are coveted by collectors and museums alike. The petite young woman from Southern California says she has crafted magical mixed-media sculptures (dolls), beadwork and regalia for nearly her entire 32 years.

Okuma began at the age of 5 beading her own dance regalia for pow wows near her home, on the La Jolla Luiseño Reservation. She recalls that her first major bit of validation came when she was in 10th grade, after she created a Lady Macbeth doll for a school project (she got an A), and her career took off from there.

Today, she painstakingly sews, beads and carves her mixed-media sculptures in her home studio near sacred Mount Palomar on the La Jolla Reservation in San Diego County. She prefers to use vintage beads from Italy, which she says are “wonderfully uneven.” She likes them in part because they are wonderfully uneven—which is somewhat ironic, as she places each tiny bead with painstaking care.

Okuma’s newest project involves a truly international collaboration. “I’m working with the Nomad Two Worlds project,” at the invitation of photographer Russell James. Nomad Two Worlds is a collaborative art project with indigenous artists to address the cultural divide James witnessed with aboriginal peoples in his native Australia. Okuma and mother Sandra are the first American Indians to be invited to join the project. In between preparing for Santa Fe, caring for her 1½-year-old son and Nomad Two Worlds, Jamie Okuma is one busy beader. And she couldn’t be happier.

You can find Okuma’s creations at the Indian Market, Booth 218 PAL-N.

SWEET SWEETGRASS, BAADASSSSS BASKETS: Theresa Secord, Penobscot
“I can’t believe I have only four baskets for Santa Fe!” says Penobscot basket maker Theresa Secord, speaking on the phone from her Maine home as she prepares for the Indian Market. Secord makes her exquisite black ash and sweetgrass baskets with the 150-year-old basket forms and tools—and passion—she inherited from her great-grandmother.

In the 25 years since she took up her tribe’s ancestral trade, Secord has won awards from SFIM, the Heard Museum Indian Fair and the Eiteljorg Indian Market. “It’s my passion for the art as an advocate for our next generations that I take most seriously, and where I find true satisfaction,” says Secord. In 2003, she was the first U.S. citizen to receive the prize for Women’s Creativity in Rural Life, presented at the United Nations. She was honored with a Community Spirit Award in 2009 by the First Peoples Fund for those “who have made substantial contributions to their community through their careers as artists.”

In 1993, while working at the Penobscot Nation and studying basketry with legendary basket maker Madeline Tomer Shay, Secord and other basket

SFIM poster created by Myleka and Tulane

makers founded the Maine Indian Basketmakers Alliance (MIBA). MIBA’s programs, including a master-apprenticeship program, have helped save the form of ash basketry from certain artistic extinction. Since MIBA’s founding, the number of basket makers has tripled, and the average age substantially lowered by emerging contemporary artists such as Jeremy Frey, Passamaquoddy, whom Secord helped mentor. Keeping the nonprofit’s work going in four far-flung tribal communities (during harsh economic times that make for a particularly soft art market) doesn’t leave Secord with as much time as she’d like for her own weaving. But when she does get around to creating baskets, Secord weaves magic. As she continues to expand her art, Secord reflects on timeless tradition: “Our work, like our people, is rooted in the ash and coastal sweetgrass. Our Creation says that from the ash tree came the first people singing and dancing.”

You can find Secord’s baskets during Indian Market at Booth 112 POG.

THE DESERT, PAINTED: Marla Allison, Laguna Pueblo
Marla Allison is one of a growing number of contemporary Indian artists who meld family, tradition and culture with cutting-edge artistic processes. Allison will turn 31 in just a few weeks, yet her work on canvas, in video and now in glass-painting suggests a self-assured and mature artist.
Allison, who lives, works and derives endless inspiration in her native Laguna Pueblo in New Mexico, started painting as a young girl. Since graduating from the Institute of American Indian Arts, she has based her aesthetic on the ubiquitous clay that’s also the basis of Pueblo pottery. “I try to connect pottery designs with my work,” she says, and also cites as influences modernist painters Paul Klee and Pablo Picasso.

Like many artists, Allison feels the push and pull of exploring new territory while staying true to her artistic brand. “I feel that my style is constantly evolving in process,” says Allison, “while I’m striving to keep my style consistent.” She has earned praise from a diverse cohort of fans, including the Heard Museum, which is currently displaying her multimedia works Mother and Father, a collective homage to her parents. She has also shown her work at the Museum of Indian Arts and Culture in Santa Fe, and the Smithsonian Native Art Market in New York. She is represented by the Berlin Gallery, the Heard’s contemporary retail gallery and Blue Rain Gallery.

In her artist’s statement, Allison sums up her life’s work: “I paint so I remember where I came from. I paint so others can remember where I come from. I paint to be remembered.”

Visit Marla Allison at Booth: 708-LIN-P, Lincoln Ave, near the Plaza.

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