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Celebrating a rich, creative tradition

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PHOENIX – The 51st Annual Heard Museum Guild Indian Fair & Market took place March 7 – 8.

“The fair celebrates the rich, creative traditions of American Indian artistry and also embraces the best of their newest art. The museum’s goal to build understanding of and appreciation for the best contemporary American Indian art manifests itself throughout the market,” read the welcome message from Frank H. Goodyear Jr., director of the Heard Museum and Ann Gorton, president of the Heard Museum Guild.

The fair is organized by the Heard Museum Guild, which is a volunteer supported extension of the Heard Museum. Since its modest beginnings in 1956, the guild has grown from a handful of dedicated women to its current membership of more than 600 individuals.

“The Indian Fair & Market is an important component of the museum’s overall mission; to educate the public about the heritage, living cultures and arts of Indigenous peoples. … It creates accurate information, understanding and cultural sensitivity, as well as debunks stereotypes that persist about American Indians,” Goodyear and Gorton wrote.

The fair is a nationally renowned event that attracts a wide range of artists and admirers of the arts.

“Some of the best artists in the world are here. I do a lot of Native and non-Native shows and some of the best artists are here. It is very much an honor to show with all these great artists,” said Kim Seyesnem Obrzut, a Hopi sculptor who has participated in the event for more than 10 years.

“It is an exciting experience. You see some of the best artists here. You see some amazing pieces. I think it is an honor. It is an honor to even be accepted to show,” said Anita Caldwell-Jackson, an Echota Cherokee painter and fifth year participant.

The fair provided a diverse display of artwork including baskets, jewelry, painting, photography, pottery, sculpture, weaving and wooden carvings.

“My grandfather was a Kachina carver, but traditionally women don’t carve, so he didn’t teach me,” Obrzut said. “When I went to college I started to do my own thing. In my sculptures I use the gourd shape as the base because we use gourds as seed storages, rattles and as dippers to water our corn. That is the reason I use that form. It gives you the feeling of being of nature, which we all are. I do mostly women because that is what I know and they all have a story or a path and they all represent something of the Hopi culture.”

“I have a lot of different types of work. I do a lot of mixed media using feathers, beads and horse hair. I also do fabric collages, pencil work and also strictly acrylic work,” Caldwell-Jackson said. “I did my first oil painting when I was in third grade. Through artwork I have gained confidence. It is a special thing to be an artist. Not only does it help you with confidence in life but it is a great way to express creativity.”

In addition to the numerous talented artists showcasing their work, the Indian Fair & Market also offered food and entertainment to the thousands of people in attendance.

Of the food vendors, the most notable were the members of the Hopi nation who carefully prepared piki bread and parched corn over an open fire. Piki bread and parched corn are delicacies in the Southwest and are unique to the Hopis.

Entertainment included the Hopi Senom Dancers, the Seneca Youth Smoke Dancers, and the Aravaipa Crown Dancers.

The Smoke Dancers received a warm welcome from the Southwestern audience; many of whom were witnesses to the fast-paced Haudenoshonee social dance for the first time. The youth dancers are part of a community effort to restore and ensure the passage of traditional dance and song to younger generations.

Indigenous artists are significant contributors to the contemporary image of indigenous people. Whether an artist is representing the significance of women to their society, as in the work of Obrzut, or is gaining confidence and expressing creativity, as in the work of Caldwell-Jackson, there is no arguing that indigenous art is a telling of the truth on indigenous peoples’ terms.