With the Santa Fe Indian Market’s director saying it’s trying to move forward, a contemporary artist won Best of Show on Friday for a traditional piece.
Jamie Okuma, a self-styled contemporary artist from the Luiseño and Shoshone Bannock tribes, won the Southwestern Association for Indian Arts’ Best in Show for the third time for her quillwork portrayal of a young woman.
The announcement at a Friday awards luncheon came as artists, collectors and just plain tourists crowded into Santa Fe on Friday for what is billed as the world’s largest exhibition and sale of American Indian arts and crafts.
Okkuma said her piece emerged from a desire to challenge herself as an artist and strengthen her roots. “I can’t be a contemporary Native American artist without a strong background,” she said after the judges’ decision were announced.
Her other pieces generally feature dancing or moving figures, but this one is completely still, part of the traditional element she said. Okuma worked on the piece on and off for the last six years. Originally, she just had the torso, but when she found the bronze sequins in March, the piece came together quickly.
This piece, like the rest of Okuma’s work, started as a personal challenge — she finds herself learning a lesson from each piece. In this case, she learned more about quillwork and dying techniques. And the award, well, that is a nice bonus.
She has won the Best in Show Award three times, including in 2000 at the age of 22, the youngest artist ever to claim that honor.
“I never come in thinking I will win anything,” she said. “But it’s amazing when other people love my work.”
Okuma also had work in textiles and painting categories, some of which won smaller subdivision awards as well. Her work, seemingly, captures what SWAIA Executive Sirector Bruce Bernstein described as the market’s push forward.
Part of that includes categories such as innovations and moving images, both relatively new groups. Another part includes making the rewards for winning Best in Show and other categories bigger so there was more at stake, and, accordingly, that would make the market better. Additionally, SWAIA will continue to honor this year’s winners by putting them on next year’s poster, a deviation from the old poster award.
“This way we can honor them all year long,” Bernstein said.
Also during his opening speech at Friday’s ceremony, he mentioned that this year’s Best of Show winner was selected by one of the narrowest margins by a panel of 70 judges. The decision required six rounds of votes before Okuma was chosen.
One of the close runner-ups was Lola Cody from the Diné nation, and she was awarded the best textile award for a 7 1/2-by-10 foot work. Cody, a third-generation weaver, said she controlled nearly every aspect of the piece’s creation.
The wool comes from the sheep she raises. Her husband, who suffers from Parkinson’s disease, created the looms she uses to weave. “It’s such a big thing for me,” she said, fighting back tears. “It’s a huge honor.”
Because her husband created the loom, Cody said, the award honors his accomplishments as well.
The paintings, drawings, graphics and photography category winner, Angela Babby of the Oglala Lakota Sioux, won a with stained glasswork. At first glance it seems to be a painting, but a closer look reveals the mosaic assembly. Babby said she used to paint, but one day her work got rained on, ruining it.
“From then, I knew I needed something that was waterproof,” Babby said.
Glasswork fits that bill, and it’s something Babby would like to make better known. “I want people to see it as an art form instead of just a craft,” she said.
And while there was plenty of traditional art forms on display, plenty of more modern forms were recognized, such as Shan Goshorn’s political piece, Removal, which won the Innovations award. Goshorn, a Cherokee, created a double-weaved basket using paper strips from a reproduction from the Indian Removal Act of 1830. While she’s no stranger to new art forms as a mixed-media artist, she said that the weaving took a little while to get used to.
Another interesting and award-winning worker was Susan Folwell from Santa Clara Pueblo, who won the Tammy Garcia award for excellence. Her pottery included an acrylic image of a 50-foot-tall, red-headed female pottery collector, reminiscent of the 1958 film Attack of the 50-Foot Woman, standing over the Plaza.
“Anyone who has been here before has definitely seen avid collectors like this,” Folwell said.