CAE Indigenous Voices Exhibit Interview /w Jessica Jonkman & Jennifer Berg

May 3, 2024

From July 18th to August 17th, the Center for the Arts Evergreen will be hosting the Indigenous Voices Exhibition! This special showcasing will feature a number of Native artists from New Mexico, Colorado, and California all displaying work inspired by their cultural heritage in a variety of mediums! To learn a little more about what this exhibit has in store, we spoke with sisters Jessica Jonkman and Jennifer Berg, two of the featured artists at the event!

Can you give us a quick introduction about yourself?

JB: Yá’ át’ééh, my name is Jennifer Berg. I come from One Who Walks Around Clan and Red Running Into the Water Clan from my mother’s side. My father is Biliganna (Caucasian). I am a Navajo Knitwear designer and most people know me or my work through my brand, Native Knitter. I have been knitting for 12 years and started my design journey 5 years ago. At the time that I started designing, the knitting industry did not have any authentic Navajo designs. I started slowly with hat and cowl patterns and was quickly picked up by multiple magazine publishers and my knitting journey began.

Experience the natural allure of Native American culture with this captivating image of a smiling Native American woman. Adorned in a stylish jean jacket, hat, and knitted cowl, she stands gracefully against a backdrop of the desert brush. Immerse yourself in the rich heritage and beauty of Native American tradition embodied in this radiant scene.
Jennifer Berg; courtesy

JJ: Yá’ át’ééh, my name is Jessica Jonkman. My maternal clan is  Honagháahnii (One Who Walks Around) and Tachiinii (Red Running Into the Water Clan). My father is Biliganna or Basgbicha (Caucasian/German). I grew up on the Diné (Navajo) reservation in rural Northern Arizona. I now live in the urban Albuquerque NM with my husband and 3 children. I am a silversmith, working mostly in sterling silver and American Turquoise. I have always been a creative person working with my hands from a young age. I grew up surrounded by the art of my people. My parents own a retail store (Chee’s Indian Store) and sold all our local artists’ work. I have a minor in Fine Arts from the University of New Mexico and am very grateful to be able to continue a cultural legacy of silverwork.

Jessica Jonkman, a Navajo Native American woman, sits down and smiles while she wears a variety of beautifully crafted native american jewlery made with eye-catching turquoise.
Jessica Jonkman; courtesy

Can you tell us about your business and what types of art you work in?

JB: Native Knitter is a knitting business that focuses on providing knitwear patterns and collaborating with established companies to offer ready-made products. As the owner and sole designer, Native Knitter represents my personal passion and unique perspective in the world of knitting. Native Knitter partners with companies like Seek & Swoon and Faherty Brand to offer a selection of ready-made Blankets and knitwear. Through collaboration, I work closely with these companies, providing unique designs and creativity to complement their existing product lines. This partnership allows customers to purchase beautifully crafted blankets, sweaters, and accessories that embody Native Knitter’s attention to detail and commitment to timeless quality.

JJ: My self named business Jess J Silverwork grew out of a desire to have my own form of self expression. After having my daughter in 2015, I needed to find a new career path for myself. My daughter was born with Down syndrome (T21) and has a variety of complex medical needs. I desired to be her primary caregiver and I needed a career that would support that. I have been silversmithing now for 3 years. I sell small batch one-of-a-kind handmade jewelry online and in my parents’ retail store.

Nestled atop a weathered wooden log, rests a collection of Native American jewelry. Each piece, meticulously crafted from silver and turquoise, tells a story of tradition and craftsmanship passed down through generations.
Turquoise Necklace; courtesy

How did you get involved with the CAE Indigenous Voices Exhibit?

JB: Mindy Lundy Kramer, has always been a great supporter of my work reached out and connected my sister(Jessjsilverwork) and I to CAE. She recognized the talent and effort I put into each piece and believed I deserved to be recognized for it. So, when the opportunity arose to participate in an Exhibit alongside my sister Jessica, Mindy was the first one to advocate on our behalf.

JJ: I was first approached by Mindy Lundy about possibly selling my work at the Evergreen Summer Fest in 2023. I was unable to make that event but as we talked about 2024 Mindy advocated for a way to have more indigenous artists represented. The CAE was gracious to create the Indigenous Voice Exhibit and include myself and my sister Jennifer (Native Knitter) as part of the exhibit.

What about the event are you looking forward to?’

JB: I’m excited to see all of the work presented together in the same space and have strangers view the curated pieces as a whole. Sharing your work publicly can be both exciting and nerve-wracking, but it is allowing others to experience and appreciate your creations. Growth is inevitable when sharing your work with the world.By actively participating in the sharing and appreciation of art, we ensure that our cultural heritage thrives and evolves. It enables diverse voices to be heard, promotes creativity, and fosters a sense of connection among individuals from different backgrounds. Culture, after all, is a living entity that needs constant nourishment and interaction to flourish.

Jennifer Berg, a Navajo Native American woman, stands in her home smiling while wearing a beautifully knitted sweater.
Jennifer Berg; courtesy

JJ: I am most excited to see a variety of indigenous art represented in the exhibit. I love how each person brings their own individual story and background to create something beautiful.  This will be my first art exhibit showing my jewelry and I know it will be extremely validating for me to see all the hard work I have put into my art and small business. I want to see this opportunity as a venue for me to share my work with others while humbly reflecting and growing as an individual and an artist. 

How would you describe the importance of events like this that feature Native art?

JB: When Native artists are given the opportunity to showcase and share their art, it not only benefits them individually but also has a positive impact on their communities. It preserves and promotes culture. It fosters community pride. It created economic opportunities. Amplifies Community voices and bulbs connections and understanding. Art is a universal Language that has the power to transcend cultural barriers.

JJ: I feel that it is vital for Indigenous people to show their authentic art. Navajo Silversmiths have developed traditional styles and techniques since the 1800’s. Although I use modern techniques I do feel it is important for me to represent my Diné heritage well and to help educate others about what Diné silversmithing is. Events like the Indigenous Voices Exhibit creates bridges between artists and establishes community.  It allows indigenous people to be seen and heard authentically. It provides a venue for open dialogue about culture, which allows culture to be preserved and celebrated. It also provides economic opportunities for a people group that has often been overlooked in American History. 

Where can our readers learn more about you and your business?

JB: I have a website with a portfolio of some of my collaborative work and shop with my downloadable patterns for sale. Also I can be found on instagram @Native.knitter

JJ: I can be found on social media instagram and facebook @JessJSilverwork. I also have a website where I post small batches of work for sale.

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