PIAM Stories: The Artist Selection Process

Guests chat with artists at their booth at PIAM 2021

In 1997, a small group of Native American artists came together with staff at the Sharlot Hall Museum, including then executive director Richard Sims and curator Sandra Lynch, to create a new kind of art market for Prescott. The Prescott Indian Art Market, Sharlot Hall Museum’s premier event for both Prescott and the region, is now celebrating its 24th year and attracting artists from numerous Tribal communities. This unique experience originated under the leadership of individuals from several Native American communities. They established standards for the artistic categories that showcase diversity among the works as well as the artists participating. This guiding hand is represented by a seven-juror platform that remains consistent to this day.

The initial group of seven artists has changed over the years. Some of the original group are sadly no longer with us, but the integrity of the original mission remains constant with each year’s Advisory Council and Jury.

This year’s PIAM Advisors and Jurors are: Patrick Smith, Navajo, silversmith (Chairman); Serena Mankiller, Cherokee, traditional artist; Howard Sice, Hopi/Laguna, silversmith and metalworker; Delmar Polacca, Hopi, pottery-maker; Gerry Quotsquyva, Hopi, sculptor; Randy Kemp, Choctaw/Mvskoke/Euchee, painter, printmaker, musician; and Alex Maldonado, Pascua Yaqui, maker of masks, flutes, drums and wood carvings.

The selection process is very competitive. As many as 150 artists apply for the roughly 100 positions at Market and begins with submitting digital images of their work, along with their artist statement and descriptions of the materials used, where they obtained the raw materials, and the methods used in creating their art. The creative process is significant as the artists skillfully shape amazing works from authentically sourced materials: how a jeweler shapes forms from a thin sheet of sterling silver; how a potter gathers clay that will become a vessel of spiritual beauty; how the rug weaver washes, cards and spins the wool for their rugs; how the basket weaver gathers three leaf sumac, willow, sagebrush, reeds or bullrush to create a basket that tells a story of Tribal identity; or how a painter or sculptor tells a story of time both ancient and contemporary. These methods are traditional from generation to generation – the stories change as they inform Native American life today – all treasured and honored.

PIAM volunteers organize all the submissions for one of the most important events leading up to the Market. In July, the Jury comes to Prescott for artist selections. They review artists’ statements, digital images, CIB verification, and then deliberate. The skillful eyes of the Jurors know what details they are looking for that inform of the artistic quality, creativity, and authentic materials. The final roster of artists at Market will convey a full representation of media and price points – something truly for everyone.

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