Native Artists Online- Late September 2019 Edition

For this edition of Native Artists Online I talked to an amazing young artist whose talent is as undeniable as her generosity and commitment to traditional Native craft arts. Courtney Bunker’s work spans multiple Native traditions and she brings a fresh perspective to her dedication to traditional craft and artistry, she also makes great tutorials and shares her knowledge and experience is a way that is both motivating and genuinely helpful. It was a real pleasure getting to know Courtney and her work, if you aren’t already following her on Instagram (@Niibidoon) and twitter (@courtnaaye) chances are good that you will after viewing her work here.

(Although she looks like a model this is actually our featured artist for this edition!)

Courtney Bunker’s work is both innovative and grounded in tradition and her commitment to community is inspiring. Here is my interview with an up and coming Native artist I think all of #NativeTwitter will love…if you don’t already.

M: How long have you been beading, making baskets and ribbon skirts and what got you started or drew you to your work?

C: I’ve been making black ash baskets since the spring of 2016, under the mentor ship of Clyde Estey Jr., one of the last black ash basket weavers on the White Earth Reservation. We did a mentor/mentee program for roughly 6 months and have been good friends ever since and continue to make baskets every year.
I started really getting into beadwork on birch bark September 2018, with the help of my mom and a good friend. Shortly after that in the winter time my mom showed me how to do ribbon skirts and appliqué. A big part of doing this is because it feels right. It not only helps me but gives me the opportunity to help teach my community.

M: Besides the obvious are there any additional rewards for you in making such lovely pieces?

C: I love seeing not only my work being worn or used but others work as well because I know the time, love, and healing that goes into our work. It’s powerful.

M: What do you like or dislike most about beading, making baskets and/or sewing and have you always worked with birch bark or is that something you branched out to after you started beading?

C: What I like most about beading, sewing and weaving is how it can bring the community together. How those spaces used to create is so comforting and much needed through out our communities. Those spaces bring good energy, good visiting, opportunities to learn, share knowledge, and just be.

(Here is one of Courtney’s amazing tutorial threads, if you’re interested in learning about working with birch bark this is a must-see)

M: Do you have any other creative pursuits or passions like painting, writing, cooking, sewing, leather work, etc?

C: Photography is something that I’d love to get into. I follow a lot of Native artists both on twitter and instagram and not only do they create beautiful pieces of work but they also photograph them beautifully. It’s inspiring.

M: What’s the best beading advice you’ve received or is their any advice or warnings you wish you had gotten when you were first starting out?

C: “Just finish it. Even if you don’t think it looks good now, or it’s not the exact way you want it to be, just finish it” my mom told me that. And she didn’t mean I wasn’t allowed to walk away from a project or take a break. What she means is that just because it’s not turning out the way i want it to be, doesn’t mean it won’t be perfect for someone else. She also encourages breaks. to not put anger and frustration into your work, but love and healing. Some of my favorite pieces have been the ones that she told me to “just get it finished” and when i write it down it doesn’t look the way she says it. She means it with love.

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Three skirts I finished this weekend.

A post shared by Courtney Bunker (@niibidoon) on

M: I know you sell at live markets and enter juried art shows; how do people react to your work, is getting feed back in person different than getting it on the internet and does the feed back you get effect your decisions about what to make next?

C: I love social media because it’s given me the opportunity to meet people from all over the US and Canada whereas for my shows I’ve only traveled from North Dakota to Minnesota to Wisconsin. I really do love showcasing my work and meeting people because there’s easier opportunities to share knowledge and really get in depth with each other, maybe even barter.
I have definitely used people’s feedback for creating new pieces. Maybe not the exact way they said but in a way that worked for me. It also gives me more opportunities to connect with elders because they may not be on social media. I’d say there’s a benefit to both social media and in person.

M: What advice would you give to artists who are thinking about doing booth sales and entering market contests and other juried art competitions?

C: Do it! Absolutely go for it. It has brought me into a new community that’s all about sharing knowledge and resources. It’s like a family. Its a little intimidating at first and learning how to present my work was a challenge for me but I’ve honestly had so much fun traveling and seeing other people’s work, hearing how they got into it or how your work may inspire someone else.

M: What is something a lot of people don’t know about you?

C: I think people are usually surprised when I tell them I lived in Alaska for a semester at Ilisagvik.

(We love your work Courtney and after such a great experience you’ve inspired to cover more young artists like you!)

Courtney’s art and jewelry price range:
Earrings can range from $10-$40
Ribbon Skirts $50-$60
Baskets $75-$125

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Wood burning on birchbark medallion

A post shared by Courtney Bunker (@niibidoon) on

Where to find Courtney and support your work:
@Niibidoon on instagram
@courtnaaye on twitter
And follow her on social media to see which upcoming markets, fairs, Pow Wows you can travel to to see her work and perhaps even news about a future Etsy store.

@Courtnaaye retweets a lot of great Native craft & art so it’s hard to pick a top three but here are three great artists she has retweeted lately:

This month’s traditional arts term is:
Birch bark (or birchbark)- literally the bark of birch trees of the genus Betula, is a strong and water-resistant cardboard-like bark that can be easily cut, bent, and sewn and is a popular material for woodburning, jewelry and even canoes.

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