Best of the West Winners 2010
Our eighth annual awards honoring those who are doing their best to keep this grand old region's traditions alive.
The fact that Bruce LaFountain placed second in the Cast Metal category at the prestigious Santa Fe Indian Market in 2009 didn’t surprise anyone. Yet this Chippewa Indian—he grew up on the Turtle Mountain Reservation in North Dakota but now creates out of Salt Lake City—doesn’t create art for awards, though he has many. His abstract sculptures seem to be always moving, which might come from his childhood memories of dancing in powwows. LaFountain is brash and forthright: “The motivation for my work does not stem from wanting to win a show or from money,” LaFountain says. “It evolves from the spirit of my ancestors and my own deep spiritual feelings.” Well said, sir.
BEST LIVING INDIAN RIGHTS CRUSADER
Charmaine White Face
She is a voice for the Black Hills—and it’s a task Charmaine White Face has gladly undertaken for more than two decades, as a columnist for several newspapers and an activist. She formed Defenders of the Black Hills in 2002, working to end logging, mining and exploitative tourism of this area, which is sacred to her Ogala Sioux tribe. Her work has received international recognition, and she hopes that will help return the Black Hills to its rightful owners—the American Indians.
READERS’ CHOICE: Russell Means
Mission San Miguel
Northern California’s Mission San Miguel, found along the historic El Camino Real Trail, had stood for more than 200 years when an earthquake hit the area in 2003. The adobe building suffered structural damage and cracks, and was closed. Over five years, the local Roman Catholic Diocese steadfastly raised about $10 million and drew up repair plans to restore the historic mission. In September 2009, the mission reopened! More needs to be done, and up to another $5 million must be acquired, but for historians, tourists and churchgoers, the progress to this point is a prayer answered.
BEST HISTORIC (100+ YEARS) BUSINESS IN THE WEST
Pendleton Woolen Mills
Back in 1909, the Bishop brothers bought an old mill in Pendleton, Oregon, and decided to try their hand at a traditional craft—creating wool Indian blankets. In opening their mill, the Bishops built on the sheep textile mill foundation weaved together by Thomas Kay, who came from England to Oregon in 1863. The high-quality products made at Pendleton Woolen Mills were marked by intricate patterns and vivid colors, and local tribes immediately took a liking to them. Then everyone else picked up on the Pendleton blankets too. Soon after, the mills expanded into the apparel market. The Bishop family still runs the operation, making sure the tradition continues strong today.
National Parks: America’s Best Idea by Ken Burns for PBS
Ken Burns, America’s foremost documentary filmmaker, is either getting better or his decision to honor our spectacular National Parks came from someplace deeper, because this is his best and most heartfelt work. While the geography and beauty of the National Parks are central to the 12-part series, the heart of the documentary are those individuals, from the high born to the hardscrabble poor, who played important roles in isolating and preserving the American wilderness. It’s a great story, and if you missed the broadcast on PBS in September 2009, the entire show can now be purchased in a box set.
BEST WESTERN COMIC/GRAPHIC NOVEL SERIES
Jonah Hex has been around for decades, and he’s suffered indignities that few comic characters could survive, including a stint as a monster fighter in the future and as a stuffed exhibit in a theme restaurant. But surviving is what the horribly scarred bounty hunter does best. For the last several years, at the hands of writers Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray, and an amazing number of creative artists at DC Comics, Hex has kept in front of a number of recent Western comics, all of which are pretty good. Look for the Jonah Hex movie in 2010.