In 2017, the Native Arts and Cultures Foundation (NACF) launched the Mentor Artist Fellowship Program awarding the first mentor-apprentice cohort. Since then, 31 Native artists and culture bearers have received the award to foster emerging artists through mentorship. The fifteen-month program improves creative development and the intergenerational transfer of Native artistic knowledge and cultural practices.
In years past, NACF hosted in-person convenings for fellows and their apprentices to connect and collaborate. This year, due to COVID-19 restrictions, the 2020 Mentor Artist Fellow cohort gathered virtually over two days in late Spring. The convening included virtual presentations by mentor artists and their apprentices who discussed the artistic and cultural work they completed during the fellowship. Despite the hardships resulting from the pandemic, the Mentor Artist Fellows shared stories of resilience and creativity that allowed them to work with apprentices during an unprecedented time.
At the beginning of the pandemic, many artists struggled to get supplies for their work and were forced to change their joint project plans, or find creative alternatives to working during times of social distancing. Like many of us, the Mentor Artists shifted to online platforms when possible. For example, Nathan Jackson (Tlingit) and his apprentice X’unei Lance Twitchell (Tlingit, Haida, Yup’ik, Sami) were able to carry on a mostly “virtual” apprenticeship by working together through instructional videos and Zoom meetings and even a few socially distanced visits for in-person instruction. Twitchell is a Northwest Coast artist who also teaches the Tlingit language at the University of Alaska Southeast. One of his primary goals for the apprenticeship was to transition from being a designer to being a carver. Jackson taught Twitchell how to use various tools and rely more on free-hand pencil and paper sketches versus computer designs.
Mentor Artist Nani Chacon (Diné) and apprentice Lynnette Haozous (Chiricahua Apache [San Carlos Apache Tribe], Diné, Taos Pueblo) were fortunate, however, in that most of their work was conducted outdoors with plenty of social distancing. Chacon has more than twenty years of experience painting in public spaces. Her murals often address Indigenous thought, aesthetics, and identity and, in effect, offer visibility to and empower Indigenous people. For the fellowship year, Chacon and Haozous painted four mural projects. Their first project, “Constellations,” began with formal aspects of painting, including color theory, blending, blocking colors, mixing paints, and using a photographic reference to transfer designs to large-scale murals.
The Mentor Artist Fellowship ensures that creative expression held and maintained in Native arts and cultures evolves in a new generation of artists. As the 2020 cohort of Mentor Artist Fellowships wrap up their projects, we are reminded of the power of Native arts practices in lifting up our contemporary artistic expressions as an act of Indigenous resilience.
CONTEMPORARY VISUAL ARTS
- Nani Chacon (Diné) Murals, New Mexico. Apprentice: Lynnette Haozous, Chiricahua Apache (Chiricahua Apache [San Carlos Apache Tribe], Diné, Taos Pueblo)
- Gerald Clarke Jr. (Cahuilla Band of Indians), Multi Media, Southern California. Apprentice: Deric Thornsberry (Member of theCahuilla Band of Indians)
- Joe Feddersen (Member of Colville Confederated Tribes), Mixed Media, Washington. Apprentice: Julie Edwards (Member of Colville Confederated Tribes)
- Cliff Fragua (Jemez Pueblo), Sculpture/Carving, New Mexico. Apprentice: Anthony C Wright-Romero (Ohkay Owingeh/Cochiti/Jemez Pueblo)
- Brenda Mallory (Cherokee Nation), Mixed Media/Installation, Oregon. Apprentice: Lehuauakea (Kanaka Maoli [Native Hawaiian])
- Earl Atchak (Cup’ik Eskimo), Carving, Alaska. Apprentice: Leo Unin Jr. (Yup’ik)
- Jackie Larson Bread (Blackfeet Tribe [Piikuni]), Beading, Montana. Apprentice: Dugan A. Coburn, Enrolled member of the (Blackfeet Tribe [Piikuni]), also a descendant of (Klamath, Pit River)
- Ral Takook Christman (Kumeyaay Nation), Bird Singing and Gourd Making, Southern California. Apprentice: Jeffrey French, (Lipay Nation of Santa Ysabel)
- Nathan P. Jackson (Tlingit), Woodcarving/Metalwork/Sculpture, Alaska. Apprentice: X̱’unei Lance Twitchell (Tlingit, Haida, Yup’ik, Sami)
- TahNibaa Naataanii (Navajo [Diné]), Weaving, New Mexico Apprentice: Gloria C Begay (Navajo [Diné])
- April Stone (Bad River Band of Lake Superior Ojibwe), Black-Ash Weaving, Wisconsin. Apprentice: Liandra Skenandore (Citizen of the Oneida Nation of Wisconsin; also Prairie Band Potawatomi, Seminole Nation of Oklahoma, and Mvskoke Creek Nation)