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Artists make their marks at annual TOTA show

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Tahlequah High School junior Macey Conner stands next to her winning artwork on April 5th at the annual Trail of Tears Art Show inside the Cherokee Heritage Center. - Chad Hunter

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Daniel HorseChief poses with his award-winning painting "Renewal" at the 48th Annual Trail of Tears Art Show on April 5th at the Cherokee Heritage Center. - Chad Hunter

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Cherokee National Treasure - Troy Jackson poses with his grand prize winning sculpture "Faith in the Creator" on April 5th at the Trail of Tears Art Show at the Cherokee Heritage Center. - Chad Hunter

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Emma Sherron, 14, on April 5th stands next to her woven wall hanging at the annual Trail of Tears Art Show. Sherron was the Cherokee Art Market Youth Competition's top winner. - Chad Hunter

PARK HILL – A collection of Native American painters, sculptors, basket weavers, potters and more inspired onlookers at this year’s annual Trail of Tears Art Show and Sale.

“I wouldn’t want to be judging this,” reception attendee Sally Sutton said. “There are too many good pieces.”

Art show winners were announced April 5 during a reception at the Cherokee Heritage Center.

“I’m in awe,” Principal Chief Bill John Baker told the artists and others. “We’ve never had this big a crowd, and the quality of the artwork is absolutely stunning. You are doing such a great service to the Cherokee Nation because those pieces of artwork are telling stories. They are going to be pieces that our generations will look at so that we’re never forgotten.”

The event, in its 48th year, is the longest-running American Indian art show in Oklahoma, event organizers said. This year’s gallery featured 153 works from 89 artists. Charles Gourd, CHC executive director, said 19 tribal nations were represented.

“I think that is a very significant accomplishment,” Gourd said. “We have encouraged artists from other Indian tribes and other cultures to join us.”

For the sixth time, Cherokee National Treasure Troy Jackson won the grand prize, this year for a towering sculpture called “Faith in the Creator.”

“I think it’s pretty awesome,” he said of the win.

Jackson, 63, of Tahlequah, said his Cherokee and European ancestry inspired the clay and steel sculpture.

“I’ve always been interested in my family’s heritage,” he said. “My mother’s side was Cherokee and my dad’s side was European. I found that there were certain things that they believed in even before contact with the Europeans.”

Jackson’s bird effigy pot also took first place in the pottery category.

Painter Jerry Sutton, who has a Tahlequah studio, said he began entering the Trail of Tears Art Show in the early 1990s.

“I’ve picked up some ribbons here and there,” he said. “But whether it is culturally focused, personally focused or philosophically focused, I think the important thing is for people to look inside themselves so they can see outside of themselves. Art does that.”

Artists at the competition’s top level, Sutton said, “are as good as you’re going to get.”

“The best of the work here is on par with anything internationally as far as I’m concerned,” he said.

One of those top-tier creators, Cherokee/Pawnee artist Daniel HorseChief, of Sallisaw, earned the annual Trail of Tears Award for his painting dubbed “Renewal,” which is based on earlier work.

“The previous piece had a couple,” he said. “This piece has the couple. They’re a little older, but they also have a little girl. She’s helping them sew a seed. It’s just about regeneration and cycles of things. We’re so tied into the legacies left before us.”

While seasoned artists such as HorseChief and Jackson earned some of the show’s top prizes, Native artists of all ages shared the spotlight. Younger contestants were showcased in the Cherokee Art Market Youth Competition. 

Tahlequah High School junior Macey Conner won first place in the 2-D category for grades 11-12, as well as the Bill Rabbit Award for her pencil drawing. Aptly named “Alasgida Sudetiyvda Ganvnda” (Year Long Dance), the piece took 17-year-old Conner, a CN citizen, a year and one month to complete.

“I just started it to see where it would go,” Conner said. “My mom, she’s like let’s put this in the show. In eighth grade, I won at the Tulsa State Fair, but it’s been a few years since I won first. I was so happy.”

The youth competition’s top winner was Emma Sherron, 14, a CN citizen who crafted a woven wall hanging in her favorite colors — coral, teal, and white.

“Since this is my first year, I thought I had a chance, but I didn’t know I would get first place and best in show,” the Tahlequah teenager said. “That really excited me.”

Sherron also took first place in 3-D art, grades six-eight.

“I started weaving about two years ago,” she said. “I learned from my grandma and my aunt. Weaving is unique because not as many people do it anymore. It’s fun to do it and carry it on.”

All artwork featured at the show is available for purchase through May 5.

Cherokee artist Roy Boney Jr. won the Bill Rabbit Legacy Award for his piece, “Painting Herself to Life.” Cherokee artist Toneh Chuleewah won the Betty Garner Elder Award for his “Indian River Bracelet.”

Other first-place artists were:

• Johnnie Diacon, Muscogee Creek, painting,

• Tama Roberts, Cherokee, sculpture,

• Vivian Garner Cottrell, Cherokee, basketry,

• Toneh Chuleewah, Cherokee, jewelry,

• Melinda Schwakhofer, Muscogee Creek, graphics,

• Norma Howard, Choctaw/Chickasaw, miniature,

• Gary Henson, Cherokee, emerging artists,

• Aiden Bearpaw, Cherokee, 2-D grades six-eight,

• Caitlyn McWhorter, Cherokee, 2-D grades nine-10,

• Tanner Williams, Cherokee, 3-D grades nine-10,

• Chandler Jackson, Cherokee, 3D grades 11-12,

• Jordan Crittenden, Cherokee, youth competition judge’s choice,

• Samantha Lawson, Cherokee, youth competition judge’s choice, and

• Kelsey Morgan, Chickasaw /Cherokee, youth competition judge’s choice.

For a look at the video about this great event please click here

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