Thompson recognized by First Peoples Fund for artistic excellence

by Feb 5, 2023A&E, COMMUNITY sgadugi0 comments


One Feather Asst. Editor


Mary Welch Thompson, a member of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians (EBCI) from the Big Cove Community, has been selected to receive a prestigious art award.  She is one of four recipients in Indian Country to receive the 2023 Jennifer Easton Community Spirit Award given by the First Peoples Fund.

Mary Welch Thompson, an EBCI tribal member from the Big Cove Community, has been selected to receive the 2023 Jennifer Easton Community Spirit Award from the First Nations Fund. She is shown holding a pot during the 2019 Kananesgi Pottery Festival in Cherokee, N.C. (SCOTT MCKIE B.P./One Feather photo)

“I was amazed when I received the phone call last month,” Thompson said of when she heard the news of the award.  “It means a great deal to represent the EBCI on any stage, but having my artwork recognized is indeed an honor.”

She is a third-generation basket maker having learned the art of both white oak and river cane basketry from her mother, Geraldine Wolfe Walkingstick, and grandmother, Annie Welch.

Thompson, who is also a member of the Qualla Arts and Crafts Mutual, Inc., commented, “Cherokee art is our culture and a part of our history.  The more I learned, the more I wanted to know about us.  I researched, went to museum archives and symposiums to learn more about us and our art.  Doing this, I learned more about our culture and history which I was not taught in school.  It makes sense to me how all of this ties together and makes us Cherokee.  I do appreciate that this part of our culture is now considered ‘art’.  To our youngsters, I encourage NiGaDa to create art, to acknowledge and learn about where we came from and where we might be in the future as Cherokee artist whether it be traditional or contemporary and in all mediums.”

Lori Pourier, a member of the Oglala Sioux Tribe and president of the First Peoples Fund, said in a statement, “Our Community Spirit Award honorees are the heart and soul of First Peoples Fund and our tribal communities.  Our support for them now is critical.”

Information from the First Peoples Fund describes the history of the award. “Named for First Peoples Fund’s founder Jennifer Easton, the award recognizes artists who have worked selflessly to weave their cultural knowledge and ancestral gifts into their communities.  These practicing artists are nominated for the award by their students, mentees, fellow artists, and community members.”

Thompson is also a founding member of the Cherokee Potters Guild and practices the traditional art of Cherokee stamped pottery.  During the 2019 Kananesgi Pottery Festival in Cherokee, N.C., she spoke to the One Feather about the difference between her two art forms. “With baskets, it is so much work and time-consuming to get your materials ready and getting through that process whereas, with pottery, I can cut myself off a piece of clay, sit down and start working.  I have access to clay so that makes it a lot easier.”

She said pottery is a “stress-reliever” but she said the connection to Cherokee culture is the main reason she enjoys the art form.  “It just amazes me that somebody’s grandma’s grandma’s grandma figured this out and it’s still going on right now.  To be able to fire it, waterproof it, cook with it; it just amazes me how productive and how much ingenuity they had to be able to come up with it.  So, that culture and history intrigues me as much as sitting there and being able to produce something with your hands.”

The following artists also were selected to receive the 2023 Jennifer Easton Community Spirit Award:

  • Charles Kealoha Leslie, a Kanaka Maoli from Captain Cook, Hawai’i; for traditional Hawaiian net-making
  • Tom Stone, a Kanaka Maoli from Kane’ohe, Hawai’i; for carving
  • Robert Charles Davidson Guud San Glas, a member of the Haida and Tlingit nations from White Rock, British Columbia, Canada; for carving, dance, sculpture, and storytelling