You are here
Home > Community > Palette of Indian art colors annual gathering

Palette of Indian art colors annual gathering

AIAC04BIG CYPRESS — For woodcarver Henry Wallace, resting in a Seminole chickee and chipping away at a block of fine cypress at the Big Cypress Reservation was exactly what he expected during the American Indian Arts Celebration at Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum.

“I’m home away from home,” said the resident of the Red Bays community in Andros Islands. “It’s like I just popped by to say hello to relatives.”

The 16th annual event held Nov. 1-2 united Seminole artists, including Wallace and two others, Gertrude Gibson and Norma Knowles, from Red Bays who are all Seminole descendants, and a lineup of other artists from throughout Indian Country. Chairman James E. Billie invited the Red Bays descendants after getting a taste of their traditions during a visit to Andros Island in June.

Hundreds streamed through the fairgrounds peppered with 48 vendor tents. Authentic jewelry, clothing and other handmade items by noted Tribal crafters, including Laura Mae Clay, Maggie Billie Porter and Ingram Billie Jr., lined tables.

“People have their own style of making things. Some are more decorative than others. But while all is Seminole art, we have our different way,” Porter said.

The Red Bays basket makers, for example, do not incorporate thread into their traditional baskets as Florida Seminoles do, Gibson said. But during her visit to Big Cypress she had the opportunity to learn the Seminole Tribe’s way.

“I can’t wait to get home to do it,” she said.

Knowles, another basket maker and a local government representative for the community of Red Bays, said that every child in Red Bays, whether male or female, learns to make baskets as soon as they are old enough.

“It’s a way of living for us,” she said, adding that she has made baskets for “as long as I can remember.”

Non-natives such as fine artist and Seminole book illustrator Guy LaBree and  bronze sculptor Bradley Cooley, who crafts busts and statues of Seminole figures, held prominent spaces that hugged the fringe of the fair.

Music also permeated the event.

The Seminole Tribe’s own Osceola Brothers Band rocked the scene with blues and rock and roll original tunes. Native drumming accompanied the Cherokee Nation’s Warriors of AniKituwah dance group from North Carolina. Inspirational singing came from members of the Ain Dah Yung Center, a Native American youth shelter in Minnesota.

Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum director Paul Backhouse said 95 percent of the 43 vendors were Seminole. Clan families provided unique variations of traditional foods like frybread, Indian tacos and spam with rice.

“The Museum is about culture and what is going on today. We want to always be relevant to the culture while serving the community,” Backhouse said.

Artist Jessica Osceola, who is taking online classes through the Academy of Art University in San Francisco, was one of the youngest Seminoles to be featured. Her sharp, subjective style in various mediums, including cloth, wood and metal, is uniquely unexpected.

“I am more focused on the art than the pow-wow. It’s an authentic perspective that blends tradition with contemporary – it makes up my identity,” Osceola said.

Laura Bhatti, of the Otavalo indigenous people in South America and a former art teacher at the Miccosukee Indian School in Miami, said she attended the event for 15 consecutive years and always looks forward to the next.

Bhatti’s booth was loaded with musical instruments carved from cedar, fabric wall hangings, puppet dolls and other items reminiscent of her childhood in Ecuador where uncles, cousins, aunts and other relatives spent days creating works.

“I never went to college, I never went to sewing class,” Bhatti said. “For native people, everything we do we learned from grandparents. To us, life is art. We are inspired by nature.”

Senior Editor Brett Daly contributed to this article.