Mentorship and Matriarchy



Portland Art Museum

November 6, 2021
May 8, 2022

The Mesh exhibition closed on May 8 after six months at the Portland Art Museum (PAM), in Portland, Oregon. The exhibit was the result of an NACF-PAM partnership and highlighted the work of four Native artists who apprenticed with mentor artists as part of NACF’s Mentor Artist Fellowship program.

Mesh’s closing night was celebrated with a reception and a panel – Mentorship and Matriarchy –   featuring three of mentee exhibiting artists: Lehuauakea (Kanaka Maoli / Native Hawaiian), Lynnette Haozous (Chiricahua Apache [San Carlos Apache Tribe], Diné, Taos Pueblo) and Leah Rose Kolakowski (Keweenaw Bay Ojibwa). The panel was facilitated by mentor artist Brenda Mallory (Cherokee Nation).

The artists reflected on their experiences during the NACF Mentor Artist Fellowship and what they learned through the program that they wouldn’t otherwise have gained from formal art school training. They talked about the importance of working with a Native mentor to honor their values and broaden their perspectives and skills, and also discussed what Matriarchy meant to them, addressing their roles and responsibilities as Matriarchs.

Moderator Brenda Mallory and panelists Lehuauakea, Lynnette Haozous and Leah Rose Kolakowski

NACF launched the Mentor Artist Fellowship program in 2017, awarding the first 12 mentor-apprentice cohort. Throughout the life of this program, 31 Native artists and culture bearers received support to foster emerging artists through mentorship in a new generation of artists. The success of the Mentor Artist Fellowship program led to a partnership with the Portland Art Museum and NACF’s support of the Mesh exhibition, which opened on November 6, 2021. Mesh featured the bold work of four early-career artists who apprenticed with an established artist as part of the Mentor Artist Fellowship program. The multidisciplinary work addresses current social issues, including the ongoing fight against racial injustice and conflicts over Indigenous land rights. At the same time, through photography, painting, sculpture, and mixed media, they celebrate the ongoing presence of Native American art and culture. Curated by Kathleen Ash-Milby, PAM’s Curator of Native American Art, the exhibition is a vivid example of the power of Native arts to lift contemporary artistic expressions as an act of Indigenous resilience.

Mesh brought greater visibility and recognition to the artists we support. These four artists deepened their artistic practices through our Mentor Artist Fellowship program, and NACF is honored to have made this investment in the next generation of Native artists.”

― Laura (Cales) Matalka (Chickasaw Nation), NACF Program Manager


Ka’ila Farrell-Smith (Klamath Modoc) is a contemporary visual artist based in Modoc Point, Oregon. Her recent work Land Back draws from the aesthetics of graffiti and petroglyphs, using text and imagery as urgent messengers of warning and resistance. Farrell-Smith apprenticed with Shirod Younker (Coquille & Coos) during his NACF Mentor Artist Fellowship, learning the art of traditional and contemporary tool making, canoe paddle carving and canoe model making.

Photo: Off The Ground,” Acrylics, Painted Hills wild red, Klamath charcoal, aerosols, graphite, oil bars on wood panel, Ka’ila Farrell-Smith, 2021.

Lehuauakea (Kanaka Maoli) is an interdisciplinary artist and Kapa maker. Lehuauakea apprenticed with Brenda Mallory (Cherokee Nation) during her NACF Mentor Artist Fellowship. For their final project, they curated an online exhibition titled ᎩᎦᎨ x PŌ, the Cherokee word for “red” and the ʻŌlelo Hawaiʻi word for “black.” Mallory and Lehuauakea explored interwoven histories of displacement, mixed identity and cultural erasure through a contemporary Native lens.

Photo: “Mana Māhū,” Kapa, Lehuauakea (Kanaka Maoli), 2020.

Leah Rose Kolakowski (Keweenaw Bay Ojibwa) is a photographer who apprenticed with NACF Mentor Artist Fellow Cara Romero (Chemehuevi). They worked together to create six new Native American female fine-art photographic portraits during their fellowship year. Kolakowski’s photographic study channels strength and beauty to express an authentic Native perspective in contemporary photography.

Photo: “Bring Her Home,” Leah Kolakowski (Keweenaw Bay Ojibwa), 2018.

Lynnette Haozous (Chiricahua Apache [San Carlos Apache Tribe], Diné, Taos Pueblo) painted a temporary 20-foot mural in the gallery for the exhibition. Haozous apprenticed with Nani Chacon (Diné) during her NACF Mentor Artist Fellowship, whose murals often address Indigenous thought, aesthetics, and identity, offering visibility to and empowering Indigenous people. For their fellowship year, Chacon and Haozous painted four mural projects.

Photo: Lynnette Haozous painting a 20-foot temporary mural at the Portland Art Museum, 2021.