Announcing the Winner of our 2021 Elder Wool Blanket Design Contest

In 2021, we added two new categories to our Wool Blanket Design Contest. Joining our People’s Choice category this year was our Warrior category, honoring our warriors and veterans, and our Elder category, honoring our elders and ancestors.

As elders are such an important and honored part of Native communities, it’s no surprise our largest number of submissions was for the Elder category with 102 submissions. Because we wanted to ensure our Elders blanket truly honors our ancestors, we asked the Seattle Indian Health Board’s Elders Council for their feedback on the designs. Their guidance was invaluable, and we thank them for their guidance in selecting a final winner. After much deliberation, we’re excited to announce that the winner of the 2021 Elder Wool Blanket Design Contest is Cherokee artist Bryan Waytula!

Bryan and his mom in 1986; Bryan and his mom at an art show in 2019; Bryan's grandmother

“We’re so inspired by Bryan’s story,” said Eighth Generation Founder Louie Gong (Nooksack). “Bryan is a highly accomplished artist himself, but in learning about how influential both his mother and grandmother are in his art, we felt that intergenerational piece would lend a special significance to a blanket dedicated to elders.”

Bryan comes from a family of incredible artists—both his mother and grandmother Betty Scraper-Garner are Cherokee National Treasures and mastercraftsmen in the art of basketry, famous for their incredible woven works of art. “I can remember Granny showing and teaching admirers how to make a traditional Cherokee basket,” says Bryan. “I hear (mom) talk about Granny teaching her and I feel she's always with us when we travel as we're bringing her stories and knowledge along with us.” Despite his mother and grandmother’s skill, Bryan says basketweaving didn’t come easily to him. “My baskets had a tendency to be lopsided and roll,” he says of being taught how to weave. “I needed to put rocks inside to keep them standing up straight.”

“I can still weave,” he adds, “but it's comical.”

Right: a basket made by Bryan's mom; Left: Bryan's colored pencil drawing of the same basket

Instead, Bryan excels at painting, drawing, and sculpture. A look through his gallery reveals his incredible talent with photorealism. His portrait of Cherokee actor Wes Studi, his detailed study of a stack of “Indian head” nickels, or his “Son of the Seminole” piece could all easily be confused for photos, yet each is done in pencil. “I can remember drawing at the age of five,” Bryan recalls. “Cartoons, replicating things I saw in the comics section like Gafield, or even just coloring away in my coloring books.” Bryan was and is always creating, and a big inspiration for him is the Native community. 

Wes Studi: The Man from NoFire; Can't Make Heads or Tails; and Son of the Seminole by Bryan Waytula

“My work is inspired (…) not just by my Cherokee tribe, but the stories and lives of those from other tribes who I get to know throughout my journey,” says Bryan. “I feel the need to portray those who are working to pass down knowledge and traditions of their culture in both traditional and contemporary art mediums. I hope to one day look back and see a body of work that captures the history and stories of those who worked tirelessly to keep our Native American culture alive so that future generations will know who they were and what they did. 

Examples of Bryan's modern painting style

One such person keeping Native American culture alive is Bryan’s mom, Vivian Garner-Cottrell, who was made a Cherokee National Treasure for basketry in 1995.  “Mom continues (our weaving) tradition today, showing southeastern-style Cherokee baskets at national shows, markets, and museums across the United States.” While both pursue separate artist projects, Bryan and Vivian also collaborate on some of their work. “We bounce a lot of ideas off each other,” says Bryan, “whether it's me suggesting different ways to paint, dye, or materials to use, or her sharing ideas on different compositions or mediums.” In addition to collaborating with his mother, Bryan has started digitally documenting Vivian’s work so that it can be shared with future generations. 

On making a blanket specifically to honor elders, Bryan says, “I love our elders and the generations that came before me. We as the younger generations need to always remember to say wado (thank you) because without our ancestors’ sacrifices or work, we wouldn’t have the knowledge or traditions we have today. To collaborate with my mom, an elder and a Cherokee Treasure, on something that will honor and say thank you to our elders on such a large platform as Eighth Generations is something I'm extremely excited to be a part of.”

Bryan weaving with his mom and brother; Bryans grandmother and mom at an art show; Bryan's mom showing off the raw weaving materials she harvested

Eighth Generation is excited to work with Bryan over the coming months to design a blanket that honors our elders and brings a sense of pride to everyone who wears it. Please join us in congratulating Bryan in the comments below, and be sure to follow him on Instagram to see more of his work. Thank you to everyone who entered the Elder Wool Blanket Design Contest, and congratulations, Bryan!