Hundreds of people visited Indigenous artists, dancers and musicians at the fifth annual Native Arts Marketplace at the Driftless Historium in Mount Horeb over the weekend.
Hosted by the Little Eagle Arts Foundation and the Mt. Horeb Area Historical Society, the marketplace featured seven Indigenous artists, including painters, leather workers, bead artists and jewelers, as well as traditional dance performances and contemporary music.
“We’ve had just a great crowd. People have been amazing,” said painter Terri O’Connor of the Stockbridge-Munsee Band of Mohican Indians.
O’Connor, who grew up on the Stockbridge-Munsee reservation and now lives in Poynette, works in a variety of media, including pencil drawings, watercolors and oils.
Ho-Chunk painter Christopher Sweet, whose recent work focuses on large mural pieces like the memorial mural for the ancestors buried under the UW-Stevens Point campus, said he appreciates the chance to sell things like prints and notecards.
“It’s really nice to do these setups to share my smaller works,” he said. “The fun part of it is you meet new people from all over the place.”
Master beadwork artist Sayo’:kla Kindness-Williams of the Oneida Nation was also on hand, with her award-winning work “Uplifting Peace in 2022, the Year of Genocide.” The panel, depicting the traditional Tree of Peace with weapons of war buried under it and an eagle atop, took her nine months to create — “the time it takes to birth a baby,” she said.
The event was co-hosted by Little Eagle Arts Foundation, a 10-year-old organization based near Baraboo that helps Indigenous artists promote their work and become arts entrepreneurs.
Founded by retired educator, artist and 1980 Miss Indian America Melanie Tallmadge Sainz, LEAF works with artists of all 11 of Wisconsin’s federally recognized Indigenous nations as well as Wisconsin artists who are members of other nations. It does not receive funding from the nations, however; most funding comes from private donations and contracts.
Tallmadge Sainz said LEAF has about 50 aritsts on its roster currently, and several of those showing at the event this weekend also serve as mentors for emerging artists.
“It’s a very supportive group,” O’Connor said. “We encourage each other. (Art is) a part of our lives. It’s our culture, it’s part of our heritage. We love sharing it with others … It’s a great thing for us to always learn from each other.”
“LEAF has always been a real big supporter of my work and pushing me into different projects. They’ve helped me get established, pretty much,” Sweet said.
“You don’t always have the time to do marketing or events. LEAF took care of all of that so I’m really really thankful,” Kindness-Williams added.
Tallmadge Sainz said the first hurdle to success for many young Indigenous artists is their own self-doubt. She said she often approaches young artists and encourages them to take their work to larger regional and national shows.
“The first thing they’ll say is when I see their art, they’ll say, ‘I’m not good enough for those type of shows,'” she said. “So it’s really boosting their confidence, and encouraging them as much as possible.”