Grand Travers Band of Ottawa and Chippewa artist wins Best in Show

SULPHUR, Okla. – Throngs of visitors descended on downtown Sulphur Saturday, April 22, to experience the sights and sounds of the 10th annual Artesian Arts Festival.

More than 100 First American artists, representing 10 states and 15 tribes, took part in the annual event. Dozens of white booths lined the Artesian Plaza, each featuring the artist’s creations, including jewelry, beadwork, photography, vibrant painting, textiles, pottery and more.

Conducted the same day Earth Day was observed across the globe, Artesian Arts Festival’s top honor, Best in Show, was awarded to Monica Jo Raphael for her work “Gizhe’ Manido Gitigaan” (God’s Garden), a wide-brimmed hat which serves as a reminder to protect the planet.

A fifth-generation quill worker, Raphael, Grand Travers Band of Ottawa and Chippewa, said the artwork is inspired by the creation story.

“He (God) told us he created a beautiful place for us. A place where we would have everything we would need and everything he provided for us. The plants, flowers and trees have a meaning and purpose. He told us we needed to take care of it, and it would take care of us. But we need to remember, it’s only going to take care of us as well as we take care of it,” she said.

“Our climate is changing, our Mother Earth is sick. My Anishinaabe teachings tell me and remind me that we need to take care of the earth. We can do simple things, reusing things and be mindful of how we take care of Mother Earth.”

Artwork on the hat features a large bear and two cubs, sacred fruits such as strawberries, a bumblebee, hummingbird and tobacco plant flowers. A dragonfly represents ancestors. All materials used in the piece are natural.

Most of the hat is covered birch bark, which can only be gathered for a few weeks in June, Raphael said. Sweetgrass on the top of the hat represents medicine.

“We consider it the Mother Earth’s hair,” she said.

The piece also features porcupine quills, caribou hair and is lined in a silk charmeuse fabric featuring a digitized print of the flowers and smoked deer hide. The hat is edged with vintage Italian glass beads and modern 24-carat gold Czechoslovakian beads. Raphael said the piece took about a year to complete.

Raphael, of Apache, Oklahoma, has participated in the virtual Artesian Arts Festival, but the 2023 show was her first in-person appearance.

Her work was selected Best of Show by the Artesian Arts Festival’s juried competition. She said she was honored her piece was recognized as Best of Show among so many elite, passionate First American artists.

The daylong Artesian Arts Festival featured a variety of musical entertainment and First American dance demonstrations from the Chickasaw Nation Dance Troupe, Pueblo Enchantment Dancers, Mitotiliztli Yaoyollohtli Aztec Dancers and Grey Snow Dance Troupe.

More than 10,600 visitors attended the Artesian Arts Festival, which is hosted by the Chickasaw Nation.

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