The Aquinnah Cultural Center has teamed up with the Northeast Indigenous Arts Alliance to highlight the varied works of native artisans not just on Martha’s Vineyard, but across the Northeast.
According to Berta Welch, a member of the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah) and president of the board at the Aquinnah Cultural Center, the two Indigenous organizations are hosting a virtual holiday market on Facebook that brings together members of several different tribes.
Using the Facebook group “Northeast Indigenous Artists Holiday Market” as a platform, artists can post their jewelry, custom clothing, food, crafts, and more. Prospective buyers can join the Facebook group to peruse the market and support native artists in a safe, socially distant manner.
When the pandemic hit, Welch said, both the ACC and the NIAA were unable to hold their July arts festival. But they applied through the Massachusetts Cultural Council for a grant that supported a fall/winter market.
Instead of hosting a market at the town hall in Aquinnah or another small venue, the two organizations decided to go virtual in 2020, and according to Welch, it was a major success.
The market serves Aquinnah Wampanoag, Chappaquiddick Wampanoag, and Mashpee Wampanoag, along with other tribal nations throughout New England and the Northeast.
“We have about eight to 12 different tribes participating this year: Wampanoag, Narragansett, Pequot, Oneida, and many others,” Welch said. Welch is also participating in the market, selling her handmade wampum and shell jewelry alongside other notable craftspeople like Donald Widdiss.
Each artisan must register with the two co-admins of the Facebook page, who determine whether someone is legitimately of Indigenous descent and qualified to sell wares at the market. Indigenous artists from the Northeast will participate by invitation only. Invited artists post their artwork for sale, or links to websites selling their original artwork, on the page. Artists are responsible for completing their own transactions, with buyers commenting on items posted by artists in order to purchase. Payment methods will be agreed upon (PayPal, Venmo, Google Pay, Apple Pay, Square, check, etc.).
“There are certain criteria to make sure people are following the rules of the show — you have to be the maker, and you have to be from a recognized tribe,” Welch said.
Some local artists and artisans that are featured in the market this year include Juli Vanderhoop and her Black Brook honey, Michael Sellitti Jr. and his photography, Wanda Anton and Dawn Spears and their custom attire, and a number of talented jewelers (among many others).
Durwood Vanderhoop is continuing a longstanding tradition of making and selling American Indian clay art, Robin Lazore and Barbara D. Francis offer traditional woven basketry, and Deborah Spears Moorehead puts her intricate and colorful paintings on shirts and prints.
For Welch and so many others, the online market allows the culturally significant art that has held an important place in the hearts of Indigenous nations for thousands of years to be elevated, and artisans can get out there and make a living doing what they love.
“This is an industry that is terribly underserved, especially on Martha’s Vineyard, where everyone is an artist,” Welch said. “Indigenous art brings all these talents into the open, but it’s also a way of recalling the past, and is a reminder that we are still here.”
According to Dawn Spears, co-admin of the market and director of the NIAA, all of the normal avenues indigenous artists and craftspeople would normally use to sell their products were closed down during the pandemic, and continue to be shuttered.
“No powwows, no festivals, nothing. I participated in an online market in the spring, and it was really impressive,” Spears said. “Last year was quite surprising I think, for us and the ACC, because we had over 2,000 people join the page, and we only had it up for a week.”
The response was so overwhelming during last year’s market that the two organizations extended it for an additional week. This year, the Facebook group has more than 3,000 members, and almost 30 registered sellers.
According to Spears, she is confident that the online market will continue to be hosted in future years, and will always be an option as an online space to highlight artists who wouldn’t normally be able to travel to the Island to sell their goods.
“I am seeing lots of people’s work that I wouldn’t normally see here. Some people travel to the in-person market nationally, but a lot of people don’t want to do that, or can’t afford it,” Spears said. “It’s a great opportunity to show how varied the skills of native people are, and how proud they are of their work.”
The market will close on Sunday, Dec. 12, at 11:59 pm. Visit facebook.com/groups/NIAHM to join the virtual market and purchase your indigenous art, jewelry, food, crafts, and more.