Elizabeth James-Perry, an artist who is a member of the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah), was selected as a 2023 National Heritage Fellow by the National Endowment for the Arts. “It’s an honor to be chosen for the 2023 NEA Heritage Fellowship, because it still seems rare for traditional Wampanoag arts to be highlighted nationally,” James-Perry told The Times.
The fellowship is the nation’s “highest honor” in the folk and traditional arts, according to the National Endowment for the Arts. For more than 40 years, the fellowships have been given annually to recognize cultural traditions in the U.S. and the individuals who contribute to them. Each fellow is awarded $25,000.
According to James-Perry’s website, she is a “multi-medium traditional and contemporary artist,” with much of her work focusing on “early Northeastern Woodlands native culture,” such as wampum and fiber art.
The National Endowment for the Arts states that James-Perry’s work is revitalizing Eastern Woodlands and Algonquin traditional arts through “careful preparation of natural materials, exquisite skill of execution, and beauty of form with historical research and family knowledge.”
In a biography written by the National Endowment for the Arts, James-Perry credited her mother, scrimshaw artist Patricia James-Perry, with “grounding her in the understanding of what it is to be an artist and educator.” She also included her cousins Helen Attaquin, a weaver and quiltmaker, and Nanepashemet Tony Pollard, an Eastern Woodlands performer and artist. James-Perry carried on imparting traditional art forms, such as demonstrating willow branch fish trap weaving at the Aquinnah Cultural Center Museum and mentoring a Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe member in dye work and textiles.
James-Perry emphasized to The Times the importance of passing on art forms to others. “By practicing arts like wampum, or weaving, or even singing, we stay connected to the rich coastal lands, remembering our stories and genealogy, honoring creation, and most importantly, keeping family and community together by practicing together,” she said. “In creating the wampum cuff ‘Cranberry Day,’ I am recalling trips to Aquinnah to gather the tart red berries with tribal members, the sound of kids playing, and the ever-present Atlantic Ocean.”