Canceled festivals, art shows force Cherokee to look at new opportunities
MUSKOGEE – With events postponed or canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Cherokee artists, creators and event planners are looking at ways to make their presences known.
The livelihood of Cherokee artist MaryBeth Timothy and her husband John (Muscogee Creek) was unknown as the coronavirus swept across the world. The two run MoonHawk Art, creating art on everything from coffee mugs to canvas.
MoonHawk Art not only sells at festivals and art shows but also at Cherokee Nation gift shops, visitor centers and galleries. When events began canceling and closing, much of their in-person art sells stopped.
“Usually starting around February we start doing a few art shows,” MaryBeth said. “Then in March, when this pandemic started, everything stopped. Everything shutdown. We had to…figure out how we were going to make it because this is our full-time job. This is our livelihood.”
With a push for online sells, she and John switched from in-person teaching to online lessons. She said thanks to their LLC status they also applied for grants. “We’ve just been trying to do as much as we can through that. We are very, very thankful for that.”
While navigating the pandemic early on, MaryBeth said she received a phone call that took her out of her comfort zone and allowed her to do something she has always wanted.
“I’ve got a contract to do 12 images for a children’s book called “Indian Shoes” by Cynthia Leitich Smith, and it’s through HarperCollins Children’s Books,” she said. “That has helped not only with the money part but to just kind of give me that little boost because right now my anxiety has been off the charts with everything that’s going on. This has been a real blessing for me to have these different things come up.”
MoonHawk Art can be found on Facebook, Instagram and at moonhawkart.com.
Gourds, Etc. Art Studio
With businesses closing, Cherokee artist Verna Bates said she temporarily closed her Gourds, Etc. Art Studio, which houses her gourd art, jewelry and more, at the start of the pandemic due to Locust Grove ordinances.
“Because my studio is located within a five-mile area of the town of Locust Grove, I have to adhere to their town rules when it comes to things like this,” she said.
Although she had to close, Bates said this didn’t stop her from promoting on Facebook.
“You had to keep items posted on your page, keep attention to your work so that people didn’t forget about you,” she said. “There really wasn’t any business to be had at that point and time. People…were hanging on to their money because we didn’t know how long this was going to last.”
Bates has seen her fellow artists come together to help each other during the uncertainty.
“There’s a private group on Facebook that’s just for artists only. We share opportunities, we share experiences. Everybody seems to be more helpful, especially at this time,” she said.
While adapting to this way of selling, Bates said it’s not the same as the “face-to-face” interactions.
“We’re going to be doing a virtual (Cherokee) Homecoming Art Show, which is usually during the Cherokee (National) Holiday….and that’s the biggest, biggest time of business for most artists,” she said. “When you can visit face-to-face that’s when you gain new collectors. A lot of these collectors, they base their purchases on the person and personality of that artist.”
Bates said her studio has reopened but follows strict protocols. To visit, one must make an appointment, wear a mask and social distance.
Gourds, Etc. Studio is on Facebook or call 918-694-5274.
Fry Bread Factory
Since its 2017 inception, Fry Bread Factory has won a first place, third place and finalist position in the National Indian Taco Championship in Pawhuska. But due to COVID-19, such events have been canceled or postponed.
“It has very much affected the business part of it. All the festivals and fairs, powwows, things like that have been canceled,” said Annette Mankiller, Cherokee Nation citizen and co-owner.
But, she said, not everything has been bad for her and partner William Luethje, a United Keetoowah Band citizen.
“But some good did come out of it because it did force us to take a step back, and it also gave us the opportunity to buy a food trailer,” she said.
With fan favorites being the Indian taco and fry bread, Mankiller said they have found a way to continue bringing food to the public. “We are currently trying to sit out at the Echota Village RV Park on Highway 10. We just started actually like a couple of weeks ago setting up on Friday evenings and Saturday evenings.”
To see where Fry Bread Factory will setup, “like” the business on Facebook.
Oklahoma Indian Festival
Created as an in-person festival, the Oklahoma Indian Festival has shifted to an online presence to help artists navigate the pandemic. OIF founder Lisa Stice, whose husband Greg is an artist and together run Cherokee Copper, had the idea in April, and within 10 days created an online event.
“When COVID hit and art shows began to cancel, I saw the impact it had on our artists and decided something needed to be done,” she said. “I was fortunate that a handful of our artist friends trusted me (and) took this leap with me. Doing our nightly interviews and live event helped bring back some of the camaraderie that artists have missed by not doing in-person shows.”
Stice said the goal is to help artists continue thriving. “The Native Artist community is a tight knit one. Many of these artists make a living at shows and festivals. The loss of income for many was disastrous. If we don’t support artists there will be no art. My goal is to have thriving artists not starving artists.”
Native artists wanting to participate in an Aug. 8 online event can apply by messaging the OIF Facebook page. Stice said there is a fee that covers expenses related to the website and Zoom software.
She said OIF is also scheduled for Nov. 12 at Mother Road Market in Tulsa. For information, “like” Oklahoma Indian Festival on Facebook or visit okndnfest.com.