Editor’s Letter | Made by Hand

A piece from the Bowick collection
A piece from the Bowick collection
By Kristin Bucher
I’m a winter person, not a summer person. I’d much rather spend a day skiing than lying on the beach; I’d rather deal with a snowstorm than a thunderstorm. Especially the kind of thunderstorms that pop up in the Midwest on summer afternoons. That’s why, when I planned my annual June trip to Oklahoma for the Prix de West Invitational art show, I purposely avoided flights at that time of the day. You see, for me this particular event has become associated with unwelcome weather events: There was the infamous year of the tornado, when everyone at the awards banquet scrambled to the basement after a twister was sighted. Much worse was the year that a tropical storm descended upon Houston (my home at the time) while I was in Oklahoma, flooding out my car while it was parked at the airport. Every year I wonder, what will it be this time? The answer for 2007: 90-mile-per-hour wind that damaged property and cancelled flights. Fortunately, I flew out the day after the worst of it.

Of course, it’s not really the weather that makes Prix de West weekend memorable; it’s the excellent artwork, the first-class museum setting, and the artful inspiration that comes at every turn. This year I attended a panel discussion among four Prix de West artists—Gerald Balciar, Kent Ullberg, Jim Wilcox, and Martin Grelle—that featured everything from laughter to tears. What stood out to me were comments made by several of the artists about how important it is to own things in which you can see the mark of the artist’s hand, as opposed to things that are “perfect” and manufactured. It’s the difference, for example, between a mass-produced dinner plate and one made on a potter’s wheel. I was reminded of the Arts and Crafts movement of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, which emphasized the work of craftsmen rather than machines and the hands-on involvement of the craftsman in every step.

Of course, the artists on that panel were mostly commenting about seeing an artist’s hand in paintings and sculptures, but the discussion seems particularly relevant to the work of Native American artists, which we highlight in this annual special issue. Take, for example, the work of potters such as Rainy Naha, who creates her pots the age-old way: coiling the clay by hand, painting on the natural plant pigments with brushes made from yucca fiber, and firing them herself outdoors. Everything in her pots comes from the land near her home. Truly, as she says, “Native pottery is the most pure form of indigenous art.” This month we salute all Native American artists and their commitment to creating beauty by hand.
Featured in August 2007