Native American artists from all over North America will celebrate their cultures during the Artesian Arts Festival. The art festival will be held from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. May 27 at Artesian Plaza in downtown Sulphur, Oklahoma.
“At the art show, you will find engaging art,” artist Dustin Mater said. “It is probably the most engaging arts festival you will find in Oklahoma. It is the most native art you will find in one space.”
Along with the 21 food vendors, there will also be a more than 100 artists at the festival, including musicans and performing artists.
Chickasaw Arts and Humanities Executive Officer Laura Stewart said the point of the art show is for people to see just how art can come alive.
“This is the fourth year we have had the festival in Sulphur,” Stewart said. “Chickasaw Nation has a section dedicated to the arts and humanities. We wanted to provide venues to showcase art.”
The festival began with 32 tribes from the Southeastern United States attending.
“Since then we have doubled or maybe tripled the number of artists that we showcase,” Stewart said. “There is paint, pottery, flute, jewelry, textiles, wood art and metal welding.”
There is also an art competition.
“We did not have the competition the first year,” Stewart said. “We just hosted the Southeastern tribes. The second year we opened the festival to all tribes.”
Now there are 25 tribes from other parts of the United States and one from Canada that participate in the festival.
“The tribes across the U.S. are very diverse,” Steward said. “Each one has a different culture. Each one wants to preserve its culture and see it evolve. Native American cultures are alive and growing.”
This year’s competition will include 21 categories, among them, painting, pottery and beadwork. There will be a best of show winner as well as first, second, and third place awards for each of the categories.
“This festival gives artists the opportunity to talk to each other. People from different tribes can talk to each other and share their cultures,” Stewart said. “They can also encourage each other in their artist walks. This festival can act as a learning experience for everyone involved.”
During the artist talks, not only will people be able to see different artists, they will be able to get a demonstration from the artist showing how that person created his or her art.
“People can ask questions,” Stewart said. “The first art talk will be given by Chickasaw artist Mike Lawson.”
There will be 10 artist talks throughout the day.
“This art festival is important for preserving and teaching others about the culture,” Stewart said. “These pieces of art are important because they also teach us about our history. It’s not just the history of someone you do not know. This is all of our history. They were functional but also beautiful.”
Stewart said she wants people to leave the festival knowing just how diverse art from Oklahoma can be.
“It is unique and different from plain or southwestern art,” she said. “… This art is authentic. It’s life. It is alive and evolving right now. This festival will have a lot of art, a lot of fun and a lot of food.”
Mater has participated in the festival for the past three years and will have a booth on May 27.
“I do shell carving and shell gorgets,” he said. “I do a lot of Southeastern art including painting. My art is very eclectic.”
Even though he has a booth, Mater said that he wishes that he could just walk around the festival and experience the art that will be there.
“There is also stomp dancing and fancy dancing,” he said. “You never know what style you are going to see.”
For Mater, there have been few art showcases that he has seen that are like the one in Sulphur.
“It is a marvelous opportunity for artists,” he said. “It is marvelous to see. It is such a diplomatic opportunity as well. There are so many art forms. Looking at one piece can change a person’s whole perspective on art or on Native American culture. It is an experience to see things that many people have never seen before. It is an educational opportunity as well.”
Mater said that presenting his culture in art allows him to speak to anyone.
“It relates to the humanities in so many ways,” he said. “It is a response to culture. It crosses cultural boundaries. You do not have to know the language to appreciate the art.”
When Mater creates a work, he is sharing his private thoughts with other people.
“I have an epiphany about something,” he said. “I create a piece of art. I can then share that epiphany with others. It’s about knowing our roots and knowing where we come from. It is unity. It’s not the same for every single person. Art has an amazing capacity to unite.”