Last week the Native Arts and Cultures Foundation announced its open call for the for the second ever Mentor Artist Fellowship program. Established American Indian and Alaska Native artists with ten or more years of experience in the Traditional or Contemporary Visual Arts fields can apply to mentor emerging American Indian or Alaska Native artist apprentices.
Artist and culture bearer Shirod Younker (Coquille/Miluk Coos) of Portland, Ore., was one of the awarded artists for NACF’s first Mentor Artist Fellowship cohort awarded earlier this year. Shirod is a carver and one of the keepers of his tribe’s cultural knowledge. For his mentor year he chose to work with apprentice Ka’ila Farrell Smith (Klamath/Modoc) in traditional and contemporary tool making, canoe paddle carving and canoe model making.
This craft once thrived among virtually every coastal and river tribe throughout the Pacific Northwest; however, today, too many youth are unaware of the cultural and historical significance of this art practice. “There is a shortage of skilled Indigenous artists that know how to carve in Oregon,” Shirod explains. “I want to see how the skill set expands in other communities in Oregon and hopefully create a much larger base of artists who can inspire their communities,” he adds.
So far, Shirod and Ka’ila have started the process of learning how to make carving knives, which according to Shirod is equally as important as learning to carve. Ka’ila plans to learn this traditional intersectional art form and teach it to her brothers, sisters and inter-tribal family members hoping to directly impact the Indigenous community network. “Strong, resilient, Indigenous communities reflect a healthy world that deeply understands the imperative need for balanced, sustainable teaching and mentorship, which this specific carving project embodies,” Kai’la states. “A strong resilient Indigenous Oregon community of carvers and artists will have a ripple effect, positively impacting all Oregonians.”
Shirod also believes that his work with Ka’ila will help perpetuate the aesthetic sensibilities of the Indigenous communities in Oregon. “[And] For non-Indigenous Oregonians,’ he says, “it has a potential to expand their knowledge of those traditional art forms, also possibly renewing interest in our unique Oregonian history.”
The Mentor Artist Fellowship Program is generously supported by individual donors and regional funders committed to preserving and perpetuating Native arts and cultures. NACF is grateful to Margaret A. Cargill Philanthropies, and to the James F. and Marion L. Miller Foundation for supporting an Oregon mentor fellow.