IAIA Alumna Crystal Worl Among 5 Native Artists Honored by Vice President

By: KATHARINA DEITER

Tlingit/Athabascan artist and IAIA alumna Crystal Worl was honored alongside Tony Abeyta (Navajo), Jeff Kahm (Plains Cree), Courtney Leonard (Shinnecock Nation) and Dan Namingha (Tewa-Hopi) at a reception at  Vice President Joe Biden’s residence on Oct. 27 to showcase Native American art from all over the country.  “People asked me how I felt and I said, ‘Honestly, I don’t feel like I’m in my body,’” said Worl.

Worl, who works in jewelry, metals, printmaking, kiln-cast glass, and painting, was selected to create a print for the U.S.   State Department’s Arts in Embassies program.

Worl’s art piece that is displayed at the Biden residence is entitled “Héen,” the Tlingit word for water, and is a print of a traditionally illustrated raven and a sea spirit.

The Reception

The reception at the Biden residence had 100 guests. After an introduction by Dr. Jill Biden, IAIA President Robert Martin expressed his gratitude for this event and presented a blanket to her before introducing Biden.

Worl was warmed by the words Biden had for the guests and artists in attendance.

“First he acknowledged Native American art,” said Worl, adding that it was meaningful to her that Biden stressed creating opportunities for Native artists.

However, the moment that truly touched Worl was Biden addressing the domestic violence against Native American women.

“It just warmed my heart,” said Worl, “At that moment, when he started talking about standing up against violence against Native American women, I could just feel myself beaming. I was just so proud to be there and hear him say these things that were so incredibly important to me. It was just unreal.”

Redefining Business Formal

Prior to the event, Worl described being unsure of what to wear when the invitation described the dress code as “formal business attire.” As a Native artist, she wondered what formal business attire would look like for her–she dismissed the idea of a suit. What she ended up deciding on, with the help of her family, rose to the occasion.

“I wore a black leather dress with my brother Rico’s silver engraved baleen necklace, earrings, and cuffs,” said Worl.  “[I also wore] my aunt Louise Kadinger’s sea otter and seal fur shawl.”

Worl described her excitement when she discovered that she was not only being honored alongside the likes of Courtney Leonard and Tony Abeyta, but that it would be by Joe and Jill Biden at their residence.

“The last time I was in D.C. was for Obama’s first inauguration,” said Worl, “I went to the first Native American ball that they had. That was almost eight years ago. I would have never guessed I would be back in D.C. to go to Joe Biden’s house to have my artwork honored. This experience has been incredible.”

L to R, Tony Abeyta, Crystal Worl, Vice President Joe Biden, Courtney Leonard, Jeff Kahm,
L to R, Tony Abeyta, Crystal Worl, Vice President Joe Biden, Courtney Leonard, Jeff Kahm, Dan Namingha (Photo credit: Tony Powell)

Art as a Medium for Understanding

IAIA’s president, Dr. Robert Martin, expressed his pride in Worl.

“She is our youngest there,” said Martin, “I think she was an excellent representative. We are proud she selected the Institute of American Arts for her degree.”

Dr. Martin was one of the 100 guests in attendance at the Biden residence that evening. He expressed that he was very honored to have been invited to introduce Biden as well as the way the Bidens complimented artists and tribal sovereignty. Dr. Martin offered Dr. Jill Biden a blanket before expressing his gratitude to those in attendance.

“We want to do whatever we can to support and promote the careers of our artists,” said Dr. Martin. “Art can do so much for intercultural dialogue and understanding.”

Featured Photo: Dr. Jill Biden honors Native artists at reception. (Photo credit: Tony Powell)

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