Penobscot Artist Sarah Sockbeson Named a 2021–22 Lunder Institute Senior Fellow

WATERVILLE, MAINE, December 9, 2021—The Lunder Institute for American Art is pleased to announce that Maine-based artist Sarah Sockbeson will serve as a Lunder Institute senior fellow and will be the recipient of the 2021–22 Alfonso Ossorio Creative Production Grant.

Established in 2019 supported by the Ossorio Foundation, the Alfonso Ossorio Creative Production Grant provides financial support to artists affiliated with the Colby Museum and its Lunder Institute to further their intellectual pursuits, research, and the creation of new artworks that expand the boundaries of American art.

Coming from a long line of Penobscot basket makers, she participated in the Maine Arts Commission Traditional Arts Apprenticeship Program, apprenticing with renowned Wabanaki basket weaver Jennifer Neptune. More recently, Sockbeson has benefitted from the mentorship of Theresa Secord, a Colby Museum governor and the founding director of the Maine Indian Basketmakers Alliance. Sockbeson’s work is included in museum and private collections, including the Colby Museum and the Hudson Museum at the University of Maine at Orono. Known for her distinctive color palette, Sockbeson began her artistic practice through drawing, painting, printmaking, and photography. 

Sarah Sockbeson, Penobscot Ash Basket, 2011. Brown ash, sweet grass, antler, 5 1/4 in. x 6 1/8 in. (13.34 cm x 15.56 cm). Colby Museum purchase from the Director’s Discretionary Fund; 2011.099

As part of a new generation of Wabanaki artists, Sockbeson moves across traditional spaces for community-making as well as new non-geographically determined spaces for connecting and sharing her work. For Sockbeson, basketry is both a fine art and a spiritual process, and she believes it is crucial not only to draw from ancestral traditions and preserve traditional knowledge, but also to evolve basket making to reflect modern society.

“In order for the tradition to survive, it must evolve,” notes Sockbeson.

“I see it as vitally important to acknowledge the traditions of the past and to honor my ancestors that have practiced the art of basketry long before I was alive.”

The Ossorio Grant will allow Sockbeson greater freedom to experiment with materials, processes, and media as she continues to develop her work as both a multidisciplinary artist and one of the most distinguished basket makers working today. The support for research and creative development that the Ossorio Grant provides is rare for artists who adopt traditional practices, whose work is often considered for recognition only within the narrow categories of craft and traditional art.

Over the course of the fellowship, Sockbeson will continue developing her work as a Penobscot basket maker, fundamentally a research-based practice that also encompasses language and cultural education and engagement with environmental sustainability related to the preservation of ash trees in northern New England.

Simultaneously, Sockbeson will extend her practice beyond the creation of objects to realize a project she has long been planning—the launch of a podcast where she will interview other Indigenous artists from across the country as well as community leaders and experts who are engaged in issues of concern to Indigenous cultural communities. Sockbeson is especially interested in providing access to the work of Native artists in the United States, educating broad audiences, dispelling stereotypes, and building networks across Native artist communities.

To bring visibility and access to her practice, the Lunder Institute will plan a public conversation with the artist in 2022.

About the Lunder Institute for American Art and the Senior Fellowships

A collaborative initiative with the Colby College Museum of Art, the Lunder Institute for American Art exists at the crossroads of scholarship and creative production, seeking to challenge received ideas and expand interpretive communities in the fields of American art history and practice. Our programs, partnerships, and initiatives forge connections and opportunities for scholars and living artists that also benefit and enrich the Colby College community. Chosen by invitation, Senior Fellows’ appointments last from nine to eighteen months. During their appointments, Senior Fellows contribute to the Colby community through academic engagement and one or more public programs related to their research.

About the Ossorio Foundation

The Ossorio Foundation was established after the death of Alfonso Ossorio in 1990 to preserve the artist’s work and legacy. Ossorio’s heir and life partner, Edward F. Dragon, first established the foundation as a space where scholars, collectors, and other visitors could come to experience and study the depth of Ossorio’s lifetime of work. Since then, the foundation has also worked to maintain Ossorio’s historic records, which are managed at Harvard, and to broaden national awareness of Ossorio’s work by loaning, selling, and gifting work to museums and other public institutions. Committed to supporting and advancing artistic as well as scholarly work, the Ossorio Foundation has provided more than $250,000 to date for creative development grants to artists.