Showcasing the Arts

Award Artist

Fred Nez-Keams

Mercer County

Although I was born and raised in a border town between Arizona and New Mexico on the Navajo Nation, I am very pleased to have called Kentucky home for the past 16 years. I share my culture with all the other cultures we find here in Kentucky, that come together to make our state the amazing place that it is. We have all found our home here in the Bluegrass State.

2022 feels like the year of the Native Americans to me. I am so humbled. In 2020 and continuing into 2022 I was part of the Kentucky Arts Council and Kentucky Native American Heritage Commission’s traveling exhibit “Native Reflections: Visual Art by American Indians of Kentucky,” including the Capitol Rotunda in Frankfort. There, I, along with the other artists in the exhibit, met Gov. Andy Beshear, and I played my flutes.

In early 2022, I found out that my work would be featured in the that year's Kentucky Visitor Guide, published by Kentucky Tourism, and in August, I received a call from Kentucky Arts Council Executive Director Chris Cathers commissioning me to create the 2022 Governor’s Awards in the Arts, nine for the honored recipients and one for the arts council’s permanent collection.

I make and play the Native American flute. The instrument has taken me across America and my flutes are in collections across the world. For this special commission, I knew I needed to make something very special for Kentucky. My culture goes into every flute I make.

I carry that culture with me in everything I do. I decided to show the unity in Kentucky by showing where it all started — home. I chose to make the storyteller flute. It is the story of my traditional Navajo home, with scenery of red rocks and the wide open sky above.

The flute itself is made of red cedar wood from here in Mercer County, where I live. The sunburst reminds us that the sun gives us life through its beautiful light. The block represents the towering red rock of home. The leather wrapping is how the traditional Navajo hair bun is tied. The top of the flute is how the hogan roof is made, dirt packed on top with stove pipe right in the middle. The bottom of the flute is the top rim of a piece of pottery, representing the amazing artistry of the Navajo people. The beads represent all the all colors of the people. Every flute I make carries a piece of me and where I come from.

Navajo tradition teaches that we are all related. When I meet other Kentuckians I see family, I see home.

May we all walk in beauty and in harmony.