Litchfield Park’s Native American arts festival The Gathering

Litchfield Park’s Native American arts festival, The Gathering, features modern and traditional artists from different mediums.

Native American visual and performing arts encompass different styles, points of view and mediums and continue to keep evolving while staying true to traditions. 

During its annual showcase of Native American art called “The Gathering,” Litchfield Park brings together visual and performing artists from different tribal backgrounds.  

The 28th festival will take place 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 11, and Sunday, Jan. 12, along Old Litchfield Road at the Litchfield Park Library. 

Admission to the festival is free. Admission is $10-15 for a pre-festival reception at the Wigwam 6 to 7:30 p.m. Friday, Jan. 10.

Some artists also take part in a separate juried art competition. The top artists will be recognized on Jan. 10 at the Wigwam resort during a preshow reception with live music from musician and artist Gabriel Ayala. 

Tricia Kramer, special events coordinator for the city of Litchfield Park, said Litchfield Park has built a reputation for its fine art and wine festivals, and the Gathering is part of this.

“I think it definitely complements the other art festivals and larger events we have in Litchfield Park. It’s distinct in the focus is on Native American art and culture, but it’s something that is still in keeping with what we like to do, which is to bring cultural events and arts events to the city of Litchfield Park,” Kramer said. 

Each year, the festival has a little over 100 artists from different disciplines, including contemporary and traditional fashion designers, beadwork artists, painters, sculptors, jewelry and basket makers, weavers and carvers. 

Some of the artists will demonstrate techniques for carving, silversmithing or painting, and artist Rex Carolin will bring out and have on display one of his artistic teepees.  

Most of the artists are from Southwest states such as Arizona, New Mexico and California, but a few artists travel from other parts of the country and from Canada. 

Kramer said the number of artists has stayed the same over the years to keep an intimate environment where artists and patrons can converse and build relationships. 

A children’s area will have make-and-take corn husk doll, mini teepee and clay pot activities for families. 

Food vendors and trucks will offer standard festival food as well as Native American dishes such as fry bread burgers and tacos and stews. 

This year, patrons can learn more about Native American contemporary artwork over the last 25 years through the documentary “Native Art Now!” 

Kramer said the film, which will be shown in a special tented area, showcases the evolution of Native American artforms. 

The entertainment lineup features a mix of Native American dancers, storytellers and musicians, including members of the Sinquah Family Dance Troupe and world-champion hoop dancer and flute player Tony Duncan with his family. 

Artificial Red, a band often blending flute and guitar music with spoken word poetry, will also perform. 

Ledger artist and classical guitarist Ayala is returning to the festival to showcase his different talents. His piece “The Storyteller,” which weaves Native American themes into a scene of a man and children stargazing around a campfire, was chosen for this year’s festival’s poster. 

Ayala won Best in Show at the Litchfield Park festival last year. A member of the Yaqui people of Southern Arizona, the Tucson-based artist and musician has been a featured performer at the Festival Internacional de La Guitarra Academica in Venezuela and at the Musical Instrument Museum during its “Guitar Masters” series. 

Before learning the guitar, he sang and played a host of other instruments, including the piano, saxophone, drums and flute. He continues to have various instruments around his house, but the guitar has always been special to him. 

“It is pressed up against you, and it becomes part of you. It becomes an extension of your whole body… For me, it just really resonated with me internally and in my DNA,” Ayala said. 

He plays different styles of music, including jazz, flamenco, tango, classical, traditional and multi-genre music. He is working on two new albums, one classical and the other jazz and flamenco fusion.  

As an artist, he often tries to depict Native Americans in unconventional scenes, such as a waitress in regalia serving food on roller skates or a hockey team playing a game in traditional clothing.  He also represents scenes from history, such as Native American boarding schools and Abraham Lincoln’s public hanging of 38 Dakota men. 

“My hands are the common factor, whether it be musically or creating art. It’s my self-expression being put to paper, instead of just audibly,” Ayala said.