Tulsa Philbrook’s Harvest Weekend showcases Indigenous culture, food and art to community

Jewell Gentry, a 4-year-old Choctaw and Cherokee girl, bustled around the seating area outside Tulsa’s Philbrook Museum as her mother, Kristin, prepared to give an Indigenous cooking demonstration.

Jewell diligently placed business cards from her mother, a Choctaw artist and photographer with the Southeastern Indian Artists Association, in each spectator’s chair before they arrived for the demonstration. She raced back up to her mother’s side, where Kristin helped her remember the recipe for a traditional family dish — grape dumplings.

“Put the dough in a ball,” Jewell said, repeating and mimicking her mother’s movements. “Smash it out. Put it in the pan to cook it.”

“Are they sweet?” asked Kristin. “Do they taste like grapes?” 

Jewell smiled wide and nodded.

Harvest Weekend at the Philbrook Museum, held Nov. 14 and 15, was an opportunity for families like the Gentrys to showcase the traditions of their ancestors passed down from generations and share them with the Tulsa community.

Inside the museum, the Hearts of Our People exhibit displayed sculptures, paintings, interactive displays and artifacts from over 100 Indigenous women artists spanning over 1,000 years. The exhibit, which was featured in the Smithsonian Museum, was vibrant with intricately-beaded dresses, emotional paintings and displays of ancient pottery, dolls and clothing.

Outside, Kristin and Chef Nico Albert of Burning Cedar Indigenous Foods partnered to present a cooking demonstration to a group of masked and socially-distanced spectators. While they worked, they talked about the tradition of storytelling while cooking.

Before the event, Albert prepared individual baskets — which she called Storytelling Snack Baskets — featuring paired food items to represent three elements of the “language of food”: Power, represented by top bread, trout rillette and cranberry walnut relish; Legacy, represented by hummus and Pawnee corn crisps; and Relationships, represented by buffalo jerky from the Oglala Lakotas of South Dakota and trail mix.

Jenny Fischer, the learning and engagement programs manager at Philbrook who headed planning the event, said the baskets were a way to bring the spirit of the Hearts of Our People exhibit to visitors through food. 

“(The baskets) are so fun,” Fischer said. “They’re really thoughtful and beautiful.”

Farther out on the lawn, screenprinting artists from the Southeastern Indian Artists Association demonstrated printing designs on t-shirts spectators were invited to bring. Bobby C. Martin of the Muskogee Creek tribe is the treasurer of the group and said SIAA travels the U.S. and Europe giving demonstrations of Indigenous art. While he talked, he methodically placed his print — designed by an artist at Philbrook — over and over, perfecting its placement.

“It’s pretty low-tech,” Martin said. “And it’s relatively easy to set up. … It’s just a really cool way to see artists at work, and then to walk away with some art on top of that.”

According to SIAA’s website, the group’s mission is to “promote and educate the general public about the arts and artists of tribal peoples.”

Later in the evening, Matriarch — a group supporting Indigenous women — sat on a stage and took audience questions about hot-button issues in the Indigenous community. The night finished with a performance from singer-songwriter Kalyn Fay, and the event continued the next day with events for children.

Kristin Gentry said she hopes event attendees will leave having learned more about Indigenous cultures and developed an appreciation for the history of her people.

“It’s important for the community here in Tulsa to come visit with the tribe — the tribes that are here from this area, the tribes that are from the surrounding cities and communities, and then nations around the state of Oklahoma,” Kristin said. “It’s important for them to see that our cultures are still here. But also that our cultures are contemporary, that our art is still changing, and that we as Native people are sovereign nations, we’re self-governing, and that we are thriving.”

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