Second Annual Mvskoke Art Market Taking Place in Tulsa April 22-23
By Chadd Scott
George Alexander (Mvskoke) standing next to his piece ‘Don't Call My Name’ at the 2022 Mvskoke Art Market | Photo Credit Darren DeLaune, Muscogee (Creek) Nation Office of Communications.
The second annual Mvskoke Art Market takes place April 22 and 23 at the River Spirit Casino Resort in Tulsa, Oklahoma. “Mvskoke” is the traditional spelling of Muscogee, both are pronounced the same. The event opens at 10AM each day running through 5PM with free admission.
Eighty-two Native American artists will be featured, up from 60 a year ago, selected from more than 100 applicants. Enrollment in a federally recognized tribe is required for entry; representatives from a variety of nations, not just Mvskoke, are included in the show.
Artworks entered for competition are categorized into painting, drawing/graphic arts/photography, jewelry, beadwork and quillwork, sculpture, pottery, basketry, textiles wearable, textiles nonwearable and diverse arts with awards going to top pieces in each category as well as a Mvskoke Heritage Award, a Judges Award and a $5,000 cash prize for Best in Show.
Last year’s Best in Show winner was Mvskoke/Seminole Nation silversmith Kenneth Johnson for his Star Woodpecker Triple Gorget.
In addition to the art and artists, cultural demonstrations and presentations centered on Mvskoke history will be seen on-site for guests to enjoy.
“Better than what we anticipated,” ShaVon Agee (Mvskoke), Program Manager, Cultural Center & Archives for the Muscogee Nation, and Mvskoke Art Market organizer, said when asked how the inaugural event went. “I was really taken aback, we got so many compliments. I was asking people what we could improve on for next year and there wasn’t a whole lot.”
Agee credits River Spirit Casino on the Mvskoke Reservation for smooth operation of the first-year market. In addition to the right location, the event’s advertising, logistics and prize money was on point straight out the chute, a rarity for inaugural markets notorious in the Native arts community for rocky debuts.
“There are several artists who didn’t participate last year, they were a little wary of first year markets,” Agee said. “Afterwards we heard a couple say, ‘we wish we would have entered because we didn’t know it was going to be like that.’”
One such artist is painter Starr Hardridge (Mvskoke).
Starr Hardridge (Mvskoke), Under the Oaks, 2023 | Courtesy of the Artist
“I heard lots of good things from all my friends about the show, so I decided to participate this year; I wanted to throw my hat in the competition,” he said.
Doing so is a rarity for Hardridge who, between gallery commitments, public commissions and the painstakingly deliberate style of his Pointillism-meets-beadwork painting, can’t produce a high volume of additional work to sell at markets. Still, he wanted to represent for his tribe at this year’s event.
“It’s a rare chance for people in that area to see my work up close,” Hardridge said. “(I) want to connect with the community and I have a lot of friends in the show I haven’t seen since before COVID.”
He also credits host River Spirit Casino for his willingness to participate. Not only because it means the event will be indoors, removing the X-factor of Oklahoma’s unpredictable spring weather, but also because it prevents him from having to set up and break down display booths and tables and pack and store artworks each day. The convenience of being able to stay on property and enjoy the amenities there while showing his paintings was key.
Hardridge’s competition piece, Under the Oaks, depicts a friend of his, Britteny Cuevas (Mvskoke), culture keeper, artist and craftswoman, putting on turtle shells in preparation for a dance with an oak leaf motif in background. The oak tree is culturally significant to many Southeastern tribes.
Judging for the market’s awards takes place Friday night before the public event.
An obvious question to ask would be why the Mvskoke haven’t hosted an arts market previously. That answer comes with an intriguing backstory.
While the tribe has long wanted to host a market, much of its cultural emphasis, staff and resources for the past couple of decades were devoted to the reacquisition and restoration of the 1878 Mvskoke (Creek) Nation Council House in downtown Okmulgee, OK. This is the original site where the tribe formed its government upon removal from ancestral homelands to “Indian Territory.”
In 1906, the Mvskoke were forced to vacate their building due to Oklahoma’s impending statehood and the Department of the Interior assumed possession of it. The building was sold to the City of Okmulgee in 1919 for $100,000. After years of negotiation, the city agreed to sell it back to the tribe in 2010 for $3.2 million.
On top of the considerable purchase price, the building needed an enormous amount of renovation work and research to protect historic material, all of which required tremendous manpower and money. The desire to host an art market was forced to remain on the backburner.
When the Council House project was completed in 2018, plans in earnest for an art market began. Then COVID hit. Finally, in 2022, conditions allowed for the first market to occur.
Mvskoke-Seminole Nation silversmith Kenneth Johnson Star Woodpecker Triple Gorget. Best in Show winner 2022 Mvskoke Art Market | Courtesy of Mvskoke Art Market