Laotian weaver Bounxou Daoheuang Chanthraphone was speechless when she was told she had gotten a $100,000 award from the Bush Foundation. Then she "got tears in her eyes," said her daughter, Laddavan Insixiengmay.
The foundation presented three of its "Enduring Vision" awards -- said to be the nation's largest for older artists -- Monday at Minneapolis' Central Library. Other recipients: Minneapolis photographer Paul Shambroom, and Lakota artist and art historian Arthur Amiotte of Custer, S.D.
An expert in traditional Laotian spinning and weaving, Chanthraphone (pronounced SHAN-thra-phone), 62, of Brooklyn Park, relied on her skills after war ravaged their homeland in the 1970s. She disguised herself as a fisherman and her daughter as a boy, and escaped the violence by rowing across the Mekong River to Thailand.
At a refugee camp she taught weaving to other refugees, sold their products to visiting dignitaries and helped build a school for the camp's children. She was so successful at creating an illusion of normalcy that her daughter didn't realize they were refugees until years later when she read about the war in a history class in the United States.
After immigrating to the United States in 1982, Chanthraphone continued teaching and weaving. In 2000 she received a National Heritage Fellowship Award, the highest honor in folk art, from the National Endowment for the Arts.
She plans to use the Bush money to produce, in English and Lao, the first-ever book about traditional Lao weaving and her own designs.
"She feels she's getting old and this would be her gift to the world before leaving this world. She's quite frank about that," said Insixiengmay. "Our culture passes the traditions through memorization so she wants to put it into something you can touch and see, not just Lao people but everybody."
The other winners
Word of the award elicited mixed emotions in Shambroom, 54, who has long documented American military might and civic institutions such as city council meetings.
"I'm really happy, of course, and surprised," he said. "But I must say that it is really very humbling to get this award because there are a lot of other deserving artists in this community."
Shambroom has published three books and exhibited his photos at museums and galleries from the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art to the Whitney Museum in New York City. Most recently he has photographed large scale weapons on public display in town squares, city parks and in front of VFW and American Legion halls.
He is planning a book and exhibition of those images and will also use the Bush grant "to reboot not just my career but how I think about what I do as an artist."
Amiotte, 67, was born and grew up on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. He is known for collages that document the history and culture of the Sioux, often by incorporating late 19th century drawings made by his great grandfather, Standing Bear. His work also features images of, and reminiscences by, the Sioux who toured Europe with Buffalo Bill's Wild West show, among them Amiotte's own ancestors.
His previous awards include a 1980 Bush leadership grant and a 2002 Bush artist fellowship. He declined to comment on the new award but referred questions to Bush officials who said he plans to catalogue his work and prepare for an exhibition at a German museum.
The foundation established the "Enduring Vision" award in 2007 to nurture the careers of artists with 25 or more years of experience who are residents of Minnesota, North Dakota or South Dakota. Previous recipients are painter Frank Big Bear, storyteller Mary Louise Defender Wilson, woodcarver Janel Jacobson, hoop dancer Kevin Locke, painter Walter Piehl Jr. and theater artist Michael Sommers.
Recipients of $50K grants
Additionally the foundation gave 15 artists fellowships worth $50,000 each. Winners were picked from more than 500 applicants in three fields. The winners are:
Visual arts: Cedric Chatterley, Sioux Falls, S.D.; Nancy Ann Coyne, Minneapolis; Lori Greene, St. Paul, Michael Kareken, Minneapolis; Mali Kouanchao, Minneapolis; Jimmy R. Longoria, Hopkins; Dean Lucker, St. Paul; Megan Rye, Edina; Star Wallowing Bull, Moorhead; Nate Young, St. Paul.
Media arts: Beatrix*JAR (Bianca Pettis and Jacob Aaron Roske), Minneapolis; John Whitehead, St. Paul.
Traditional and functional crafts: Dan F. Jerome, Belcourt, N.D.; Debra Lyn Korluka, Stillwater; Delina L. White, Deer River, Minn.
Mary Abbe • 612-673-4431