The AFN Convention is focused in serious issues and politics, but it also provides a venue for Native arts and crafts. The craft show offers a lot of traditional works, with a few surprises.
A several hundred foot long heated tent is packed with people checking out wares displayed by hundreds of artists. The most common items feature colorful beadwork, and a few really stand out for their fine detail.
“They’re like pinpoint,” Mary Jane Darendoff of Fairbanks said, displaying a butterfly patch with super tiny beads. “And so that’s what I sell, nobody’s gonna want to take the time to do that – it’s my trademark.”
Darendoff has already sold the butterfly to a customer who is going have it turned into a hair clip. Darendoff operates her table with a friend.
“Mable Smith, I’m from Barrow.”
Smith has spent the last 6 month making 40 of big eyed snowy owl dolls.
“I make them out of rabbit skin and buy the eyes on e-Bay – real popular especially with little kids,” she said.
Smith and Darendoff are former high school roommates who teamed up to sell crafts at AFN.
“She keeps me going, she’s got more energy than me…She’s crazy just like me, so we get along fine.”
The two say they aren’t competitive, but there are a lot of vendors vying for shoppers money, and things are expensive.
“I just sold one the other day for $1,500,” George Albert, referring to a pair of traditional Athabascan birch frame snowshoes, with moose hide webbing, one of several varieties he’s been making at his home in Ruby for over 35 years.
“A lot of people buy these for art, to hang on the wall, but they’re completely useable…you could strap them on and walk away with them,” he said.
Albert has a dozen pairs of snowshoes on hand at AFN and expects to sell them all.
Last time they had AFN here, I sold 14 pairs, I sold snowshoes I didn’t even have yet,” Albert said.
“I don’t know 100 percent, I can’t give you a number, but I’m pretty sure we’re not gonna have enough by the end of the week,” Hydze Clothing owner Rico DeWilde said, displaying a new t-shirt design. DeWilde’s company specializes in tough looking Native themed graphics, like an angry looking skull draped with feathers and flames.
Rico: “It’s called “bad medicine.”
Bross: “That’s pretty scary looking design.”
Rico: “It kind represents that bad side of medicine.”
Bross: “Where does this stuff come from?”
Rico: “The younger generation sets the trends with clothing, so it’s gotta be strong, it’s gotta be loud and a lot of times, it’s gotta be mean.”
One of DeWildes neon colored hoodies depicts a bear claw ripping through the chest. It’s just an image, but another AFN vendor offers a traditional plant based salve she says can help heal the real thing.
“This is Flo Kenney, K-E-N-N-Y, I’m from Juneau, Alaska, and I sell a pain killer, really a powerful pain killer, called caribou leaf slave…this is the plant they used to use to treat big gaping wounds, like bear maulings, to cut the pain down and prevent infection.”
Kenny’s table is stacked with dozens of little tins, she says she sells thousands of worldwide every year, mostly for arthritis and general pain relief. So, with so many choices, what are people buying at AFN?
“A lot of earrings,” Lynette Winfrey of Minto said. She is in her element having bought two pairs of earrings. “I just got abalone, and silver with amethyst. It’s really pretty.”
Another shopper, Victor Joseph of Fairbanks is also smiling but a little concerned.
“It’s costly,” Joseph said. He says the experience is as much about picking up gifts, as connecting with vendors and other shoppers. “It’s a beautiful time. You get to really see an expression of our people, and each year you get to see a little something new that you haven’t seen before, and hopefully you don’t spend too much money, you know?”