By Chris Stearns -- Today correspondent
TACOMA, Wash. - The second annual ''In the Spirit: Northwest Native Arts Market and Festival'' was held the weekend of July 21 at the Washington State History Museum in downtown Tacoma. Each year the Native Arts Market gives marketgoers the rare opportunity to view and buy artwork in a single location from some of the top talent in American Indian and Alaska Native art and design in the Pacific Northwest.
The Native Arts Market is sponsored and run jointly by the Washington State History Museum and the Evergreen State College Longhouse Education and Cultural Center.
Tina Kuckkahn, Ojibwe, is the director of the Longhouse Education and Cultural Center in Olympia. Kuckkahn is proud of the Native Arts Market and sees the market growing in a few years to not only fill the downtown History Museum plaza but also the Glass Museum and Art Museum. ''We're very happy with the growth of the market in just its second year. We have had the opportunity to support Native artists not just in the Northwest but also around the Pacific Rim.''
Kuckkahn added, ''For instance, we were able to bring in Maori master canoe carver Takirirangi Smith from New Zealand for our new International Residency Program. That in turn gave Smith the chance to work on canoes with our local Northwest tribal canoe carvers, which is really a once in a lifetime kind of opportunity.''
Melissa Parr, curator for the Washington State History Museum, added that ''without the support and contributions of the Longhouse Center, we couldn't have done this market.''
In fact, the market is just part of a larger effort to showcase Native art and artisans in the Northwest. Earlier this year, the Washington State History Museum opened the second annual ''In the Spirit'' juried art exhibit at the museum. The ''In the Spirit'' exhibit showcases the work of 32 of the top contemporary Native artists in the region, including the husband and wife team of David and Lorene Boxley, Pat Courtney Gold, Lillian Pitt, Jerry Laktonen and Phillip John Charette.
This year, Pitt, Wasco from the Warm Springs Reservation, took home the best in show award for her groundbreaking sculpture of sandcast glass, ''In Flight.'' Other juried award prizes went to Carol Grant Loomis and Linley Logan for second and third place, respectively.
Artist Jerry Laktonen, who is Alutiiq, began art after a career in commercial fishing in Kodiak Island, Alaska. His work is contemporary carving based on traditional Alutiig designs. Laktonen's work is on exhibit in the museum, but he also chose to staff his own booth at the market. He explained that the concept behind a large, intense and gripping wooden mask called ''Mask with Fire on Top'' was based on his view of the American Indian boarding school experience and the mask echoed the patterns of abuse and outrage.
Artist Lorene Boxley, Tlingit, also was a vendor at the market where she exhibited many earrings, necklaces, bracelets and pendants of abalone shell, as well as woven baskets that she harvested in the southeast Alaska island of Hoona, part of Tlingit territory.
Boxley said, ''A lot of people don't realize how dangerous it is to work in abalone. The dust from the shell that comes off when you are sanding or carving is highly toxic and can permanently damage or even shut down your respiratory system. Another thing people don't realize is that even after you harvest the yellow cedar, the preparation of the cedar for baskets takes two years, so when you see a finished cedar basket, you are looking at a piece of art that took over two years to make.''
Loa Ryan, who is Tsimshian, is another master basket weaver. In 2006 she won a first place in her division at the Santa Fe Indian Market. Her Tsimshian name is Balumnaech, which means ''first sighting of the orca fin in the early morning.'' Ryan studied under master weaver Delores Churchill before branching out on her own. She calls her work with cedar ''very rewarding'' and said she was ''very happy'' with the market this year.
Pat Courtney Gold, Wasco, has just won a prestigious National Heritage Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts. She is one of only 12 artists in the entire United States to win the award this year. Gold also works with baskets and will travel to the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C., this September to be honored, along with the other 11 fellowship award winners. Gold takes her culture and tradition very seriously. In addition to her basket weaving, Gold directed and produced a DVD in 2006 called ''Northwest Native Basketweavers'' to profile and preserve the spirit and design of traditional Native arts.
With artists like Gold, Ryan, Boxley and Laktonen, the odds are overwhelming that the Northwest Native Arts Market and Festival will continue to grow and take its place as a premier national destination Native arts market.