TOCC Offers Free Native Arts Workshop

TOCC Instructor Dwayne Manuel guides his students to Downtown Phoenix for a mural tour.

Tohono O’odham Community College (TOCC) offered a free Native Arts Workshop for members of the four O’odham tribes this winter to teach them about contemporary and traditional Native arts. The eight-week, non-credit course taught students about history and culture in addition to encouraging artistic skills. 

Tohono O’odham Community College Instructor Dwayne Manuel and his apprentice Chris Murphy show the Native Arts Workshop participants a digital sketch of their mural concept.

Each Saturday from January 7 through February 25, members of the Tohono O’odham Nation (TON), Gila River Indian Community (GRIC) and Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community (SRPMIC) in the workshop spent most of their day meeting at the TOCC Phoenix Center, located at Central Avenue and Campbell, or on field trips to the Tohono O’odham Nation, Tonto National Forest and SRPMIC Community Garden to learn about O’odham basketry, pottery and shell etching. 

Workshop participants dig for pottery clay in the Tonto National Forrest with the help of master artist Ron Carlos.

Students were 15 years and older; 10 of them were from the SRPMIC. 

“My uncle Ron Carlos, he’s the pottery maker and was on the list of presenters for the TOCC Workshop. He posted the flier to his Facebook page, and I saw it and [thought it looked] cool to do, so I signed up,” said Arick Mack, a senior at Westwood High School. “Also, I wanted to learn more of my O’odham culture. I am really connected to my Piipaash culture, and [the workshop] seemed like a good way to learn and also connect with others who are trying to learn their O’odham ways.” 

Mack is considering taking courses at TOCC after he graduates from high school, because tuition is free for all members of the GRIC, SRPMIC and TON. 

The cultural arts field trips helped students rediscover the natural materials around them. Master artist Ron Carlos took the students to the Tonto National Forest to collect pottery clay. Elizabeth Ortega of the TON took students to the mountains near Three Points in southern Arizona to learn how to pick bear grass, which is used for Tohono O’odham basketry. Jacob Butler met with the students at the SRPMIC Community Garden to teach them the art of shell etching. 

Workshop participant Tasha Silverhorn clips Bear Grass in the mountains of Southern Arizona.

“One of the biggest things I learned is how some of our natural resources that we used traditionally are right in front of us, and literally all we have to do is just look for it, dig for it, cut it up and learn how to use it to make items such as pottery and baskets. I think it’s really fascinating,” said SRPMIC member Teniya Salazar.  

SRPMIC instructor Dwayne Manuel teaches painting and drawing classes at Tohono O’odham Community College. Manuel and his apprentice Chris Murphy of GRIC handled the contemporary art aspect of the workshop, leading the students on a tour of Downtown Phoenix to see not only his murals, but also the work of other Indigenous artists. The students were able to meet with the artists who were finishing up work on the Super Bowl LVII mural by artist La Morena on the corner of First and Washington streets in Downtown Phoenix. Phoenix artist Lucinda “La Morena” Hinojos is the first Chicana/Native American artist to work with the National Football League (NFL) on artwork for the Super Bowl. 

Youngest class participant Alva Silverhorn helps her mother collect Bear Grass.

During the last few weeks of the workshop, the students channeled their talents and what they had learned through different drawing and painting exercises to work together on a collaborative mural to be displayed at the TOCC Phoenix Center. 

This workshop was the second component of Spring 2022’s workshop, which could cover only a small part of the traditional and contemporary arts. Manuel and TOCC are trying to develop this workshop into a 16-week credited course for the college in the near future. 

Seneca Ortega (TON), Arick Mack, Shanae Conger and Teniya Salazar along with others collaborate their ideas and drawings for the workshop’s mural.

“The biggest highlight for me are the field trips, going out there with everybody, because I’m learning from these field trips too,” Manuel said. “Getting to be out there with nature, with everyone working as a group—I think that’s my favorite thing to do.” He said that his second highlight of the workshop is hearing the students’ ideas. 

“When we began to collaborate on the mural, everyone had a lot of ideas. Everyone was talking about what they wanted to do, and they shared their drawings. I think that was really cool, and that’s a good payoff for me.” 

Arik Mack begins sketching the canvas for the class mural.
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