On Friday, Jamie Okuma won her third Best of Show award from the Santa Fe Indian Market for quillwork doll, a turn-of-the-century Lakota woman cradling her baby. Okuma won her first Best of Show award in 2000, at the age of 22 (she was and remains the youngest artist ever to win the honor), and a second in 2002. Okuma has also been selected best of show twice by SWAIA.
“I consider myself a contemporary artist,” she said, according to the Albuquerque Journal. “I don’t think I can be a contemporary Native American without a very strong traditional background. It’s so exciting to win with one of the most traditional pieces I’ve ever done.” Okuma, who is Luiseno and Shoshone-Bannock, said that she created the Lakota piece because “They are, in my opinion, the best quill workers.”
Okuma is a virtuoso with a variety of materials, and got her start in beadwork — a natural occurrence when your mother happens to be Sandra Okuma, a successful beadworker and painter. “I was five years old, playing with a box of mom’s beads on the floor, when she encouraged me to have at it and make something, like my own dance regalia,” Jamie told ICTMN earlier this year. Still in her possession is her first beaded piece, a tiny rosette.
Jamie Okuma’s latent talent bloomed in high school art classes, where she made her first miniature jingle dress for a doll figure, and blossomed in studies at the Institute of American Indian Arts. Her soft-sculpture blank faced doll designs became well known for their minute detail, flawless workmanship and historical accuracy — exact replications right down to the last bead. One fashion world critique noted: “A work by Okuma is much more than a traditional craft, but a piece of collectable fine art.”
Yet in a sense, winning this latest award for this work is proof that Jamie Okuma, now in her mid-30s, still has it. That’s because she has recently been branching into other areas creatively. “I had been doing dolls, intensive bead work, and shows for 15 years and had reached my limit in those fields,” she said. “I needed a change and fashion was something I had planned on doing initially before I had such success with my beadwork, so the combination of beadwork familiarity along with a need to be an aspiring fashionista brought me to where I am today with what I call contemporary native fashion.”
Her fashionista calling has yielded several pairs of stylish beaded shoes and hand-painted leather jackets unveiled for the first time at a Heard Museum Indian Fair & Market earlier this year, where they won her a First Place distinction in the textiles category.