Creating Spaces and Opportunity for Art

By Sarah Elisabeth Sawyer (Choctaw Nation), Artist in Business Leadership Fellow 2015

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Fox Spears’ (Karuk) primary medium is monotype printmaking. He uses hand-cut stencils and layers of ink on paper to create images inspired from Karuk basketry designs. His prints are in the collection of the Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture at the University of Washington.

His other mediums include drawing, painting, and installation work. Fox resides in Seattle, Washington.

Fox lays out supplies for a printmaking workshop, his mind envisioning what the projects can be. But he leaves the creativity open-ended when students arrive.

During the flood of workshops he hosted this spring and summer, Fox demonstrated his own work with the supplies and offered ideas to Native youth, fellow artists, and elders. Then he let them bring their own vision to life with stamps and tissue paper or drawing with sharpies on squares. At some of the workshops, public art experiences, and drop-in studio sessions, he had a small press to allow participants to do actual printmaking.

“I’m always amazed at the diversity of creativity that can exist within a group of people,” Fox says. “Seeing what everyone makes is so fun.”

Having space to create is one of the greatest challenges for artists. Through his 2018 First Peoples Fund Artist in Business Leadership program, Fox was able to purchase a small print press he uses at home and workshops. His fellowship helps support the workshops where he provides creative space and inspiration for potential artists to find their voice as he did after returning to college in his late-twenties.

Fox pursued interior design, wanting that structure, but a visit to the National Museum of the American Indian in New York opened the world of printmaking to him. It was also the first time he saw contemporary Native artwork in a show.

Fox developed a voice in printmaking with guidance from James Lavadour, co-founder of Crow’s Shadow Institute of the Arts on the Umatilla Reservation in northeastern Oregon.

Working full-time at his day job, Fox retreats to Crow’s Shadow twice a year with a small group of fellow Native artists to focus on printmaking.

Fox is pushing into the remainder of the year with more workshops planned and brief residency in the Seattle Public Library, where he hopes to involve visitors in assembling the art.

“As an urban Native who lives away from our ancestral homelands, I find that making art is the way I am best able to maintain a regular connection with Karuk culture and language,” Fox says. “It’s a way that I can formally document my relationship with my ancestors, and a way to share Karuk culture with others.”