Woodland Indian Art Show & Market 2017

by Larry P. Madden

wiasm logoThe annual Woodland Indian Art Show & Market allows many talented artists to flex their collective muscles for a juried art show unlike any other in the Midwest. This year, sculpture, fine art, cloth and fabric creations, ceramics and pottery were all on display during the three-day event at the Radisson in Green Bay. Running alongside the Oneida Powwow, the event brought in a mixed crowd to enjoy some friendly rapport with art and the artists who created them. It hasn’t been that long since Indian Arts moved from the “craft” category to the celebrated “fine arts” distinction, and the room’s display area felt like tangible proof of the shift in the world’s appreciation.

The show had something for everyone. Both traditional and abstract works showcased artists working in multiple mediums and styles, and there were silent auction items with lined-up tables as people bid upon pieces from their new favorite artist. Yet what makes this show special is the artists themselves who are working hard to make a living from their passions.

It struck me that a reviewer can’t capture the feeling of the room without letting the artists speak for themselves. I am pleased to report that I was lucky enough to corner three of the exhibitors and fire a few questions at each.

The first artist was Ms. Catherine Naga Mora, a lady from the Miami Nation, had just finished a cornhusk doll demonstration. She explained her Algonquian-speaking people had long ago been moved to Oklahoma (sounds familiar). But she maintained a presence in her ancient homeland of northern Indiana near Fort Wayne.

The next interviewee was an Onondaga potter and sculptor named Mr. Peter B. Jones. He was from Versailles, New York, but he was born on the Cattaraugus Indian Reservation.

Lastly, but far from least, was Mr. Josey Thomas, also Onondaga, from Georgian Island, Canada. He is a multi-talented artist in sculpture, fine arts, and birch bark canoe building.

When did you first feel the arts calling?
CNM – Since I was a little girl. My auntie, Aunt Rose was a major influence with Mom and Dad’s support also.

PBJ – Tenth grade at the age of sixteen. Athletics wasn’t for me. I went to the Santa Fe arts school in 1963.

JT – All my life. At the age of nine I started, but I maintained a working man’s life until 2010 when I made the switch to creating art full time.

What made you choose your medium?
CNM – A lot of different things. I aspired to work with oils in high school, but with children and home duties it was easier to work in chalk pastels and pencil. They made for easy cleanup with the children around.

PBJ – I was inspired by a teacher. I first pursued the commercial artist profession in school, but that teacher and I didn’t mix. Another instructor suggested ceramics, and that’s how I got started.

JT – I was working in wood, stone, and birch bark. I chose stone because the material could be manipulated.

How often are you displaying your works?
CNM – I go to two or three traveling shows besides my home venues.

PBJ – At least once a month. I have been making my living this way for 53 years.

JT – Every two weeks, mostly in Canada, three times in the U.S. twice in Oklahoma and here, in Green Bay, Wisconsin. Although, the border crossing has become quite difficult.

How has your weekend been so far?
CNM – Nice. I expected to be doing less. I saw this as a working vacation, but I believe my work to be a form of medicine.

PBJ – Good, real good. Since 1996, I have had the chance to teach pottery at the Arts and Education Center. I have a good feel for the area.

JT – Amazing. I loved the show and the people, and hope to participate again.

As always, the Woodland Indian Art Show and Market showcased some fine art by Native Artists in a casual atmosphere. This reviewer whole-heartedly suggests you take time to attend next year. If you go, I have two pieces of advice for you. The first, bring a little cash with you as it’s not hard to find a piece of art that you’re going to want to take home with you. Second, take the time to hear the talented artists from throughout Indian country tell their stories.

Larry P. Madden (Stockbridge-Munsee Band of Wisconsin) was born and raised in the Sturgeon Bay area. A recent graduate of CMN, he enjoys the Powwow trail and strives to maintain balance on the red road.