Woodland Indian Art Show & Market

By Justin Eagle Gauthier wesley may art

The annual Woodland Indian Art Show & Market (WIASM) represents a unique art experience in Wisconsin. Since 2006, it has showcased the differing styles and craftsmanship amongst indigenous artists and this year’s event was held July 1-3 at the Radisson Hotel & Conference Center in Green Bay, WI. As a lifelong devotee of indigenous arts in all their forms, I felt there was a good array of talent represented at this show. Each artist was present at their booth and open to discussion on their craft, which added cultural insight into the viewing experience and also helped provide personal artistic context to a piece if one were interested to find out more. Moreover, for the collectors amongst us, the ribbon-winning works were on display by the individual artists and were available for purchase.

Contemporary art shows with the express intention of promoting sales of indigenous art have their roots in the American Southwest in the early decades of the 21st century. The famed Indian Fair in 1922 was founded by the Museum of New Mexico and was part of the Santa Fe Fiesta celebration at that time. Indian Fair eventually evolved alongside a popular fascination with the quality, character, and distinct style of those southwest tribal art forms. Those forms, which had long been viewed as something other than art by their creators, featured lineally trained craftspeople working in the mediums of pottery, basketry, weaving, sculpting, and jewelry-making of the finest quality. It didn’t take long for the art world and collectors to recognize indigenous art as not only profitable but also highly collectible.

As interest in indigenous art grew beyond Indian Fair, the familiarity of southwest forms precluded most other tribal art forms of North America, including woodland art, in terms of marketable legitimacy. Though this incidental exclusion could be viewed as a major injustice to generations of indigenous artists who developed out from under the turquoise ceiling of market scrutiny, there is the upshot of other Indigenous art forms developing under a different kind of scrutiny. Those artists, far from toiling in obscurity, served integral roles in their communities as arbiters of cultural authenticity generating works both practical and novel under the watchful eyes of masters unconcerned with salability.

This year, the WIASM once again provided the public an opportunity to view and vote for their favorites from an amazing roster of artists in attendance. One such artist, Mick Escamea, is a long-time participant in the WIASM. When I talked to him, he stated that he enjoys showing at the event, but he wishes there were hourly events to entertain attendees and provide a fuller experience to compliment the art and artists. Others, such as first year participant Wesley May, stated that he was excited to convey the messages behind his work and thought the facilities were top-notch.

Despite boasting a fine array of woodland artists in attendance, I feel the absence of any Menominee artists is problematic when considering the show is meant to prominently feature woodland arts. I hope the board of Woodland Indian Art, Inc. sees fit to make the effort throughout the coming year to reach out to Menominee artists to encourage participation and possibly even provide a spot on the board for a representative from the elder tribe in the state. Still the show is a fantastic place to view indigenous arts in all their forms, and attending the show annually is both uplifting and inspiring.

Menominee Tribal member Justin Eagle Gauthier has been featured in several literary journals. He is currently enrolled in the LoRez MFA program in creative writing studying screenwriting at the Institute of American Indian Arts.