Honors: Amy June Breesman

Amy June Breesman with her dog Lenny at the John Rock trail in Pisgah National Forest in western North Carolina. (from the artist)

The Lawrence-based artist, activist and farmer was named a 2023-2024 National Leaders of Color Fellow 

A seed is lodged within the earth, watered, cared for and, ultimately, harvested into something usable. Similarly, art starts as an inkling, nestled within the folds of one’s brain, bursting out as something poignant. Artist, activist and farmer Amy June Breesman knows the path of growth well. She is an enrolled member of the Eastern Shawnee Nation of Oklahoma and a queer person. She studied fine art, specializing in photography. However, much of her work lately has been centered around agriculture. She is not a single thing nor singularly driven; instead, she is intensely interested in the world around her and its inhabitants. “Everything that I’ve done, maybe ever in my life, has been driven by curiosity,” says Breesman. This curiosity pushed her into agriculture in the first place, and now the East Coast-born Breesman resides in Lawrence, Kansas, working as the Land Relations Specialist for the Land Institute.  

Her move to Kansas brought many things for Breesman: closeness to her Eastern Shawnee Tribe in Oklahoma, loss of her queer community in Pennsylvania, a new position centered around justice toward the land and its people. Living in Kansas also spurred Breesman to apply for and become a fellow in the 2023-2024 National Leaders of Color Fellows. 

 Says Carris Adams, Mid-America Arts Alliance’s professional development specialist and Leaders of Color Fellowship program liaison, “The Leaders of Color Fellowship Program is a nationwide initiative in collaboration with the Regional Arts Organizations to serve our arts leaders of color. The initiative aims to empower Amy June and the 47 other fellows, recognizing the need to have more arts administrators of color in the field and at the table so that their voices and communities are represented and included.” 

Fellows meet once a month for four-hour blocks to network and build their practices. “This program is born out of a vacuum of folks who have been systemically or historically undervalued in an arts administration workplace or might be early career and are somehow othered in their workplace,” Breesman explains. “They are coming to this program and looking for the fellowship component, networking and camaraderie.”  

For Breesman, community and camaraderie are central to all her practices, whether that be arts, agriculture or simply living. She explains, “You need to be in community, and you need to be a practitioner of the things that you want to see in community. So through my job, through my farm, through my art practice, through being a person that lives in Lawrence, Kansas, I feel a responsibility to the Tribes in the area, the intertribal community at Haskell Indian Nations University, the diverse communities that live throughout Kansas, including the legacy of Black farmers. These are all things that are really important to me personally and to all of these other hats that I wear.”  

An image of the bison herd that grazes over 20,000 acres of tallgrass remnant outside of Pawhuska, Oklahoma, from Amy Breesman’s “Oklahoma Prairie” series. The Joseph Williams Tallgrass Prairie Preserve spans roughly 40,000 total acres in ancestral Caddo, Pawnee, Wichita and other Nation’s territories in what we now know as the Osage Hills.  (from the artist)

One of Breesman’s hats involves working on Bluejacket Handcraft, which serves as a portfolio of her photography, woodworking and textiles, as well as her seed and produce distribution project, Good Way Farm. The name Bluejacket comes from her matrilineal family.  

Breesman’s woodworking production includes furniture and architectural projects; she also grows fiber and natural dye plants on her farm to use in sewing and quilting. 

Breesman has grappled with themes of identity since childhood and began using photography as an outlet in high school, which continued to grow in scope over time. She explains, “My photographic practice honed in on intersections of identity and relocation lands (prairies and Chilocco Indian Agricultural School) around 2018.” Since her grandmother’s passing in 2021, this focus sharpened. She says, “Through my relationship with her and since her passing, I’m still working through what it means to be European and Native. I think that’s a question that I will be seeking to answer through artwork and other things until I’m not on this earth.” The photography project “Oklahoma Prairie” delves into these themes through stark, black and white shots of bison roaming around the prairie. 

“Holamooki” is an ongoing photography project centered around contemporary LGBTQIA2S Natives. For this project, Breesman traveled around the North American continent to photograph queer Natives. “It’s really special to make work that somehow touches on a line of commonality between you and your subject,” says Breesman. “If it’s the right fit, there can be an implied comfort even when you’re meeting somebody for the first time.” Comfortability shines through the photographs as the subjects are casually rooted in their everyday lives, allowing Breesman to capture, as she says on her website, an “appropriate self-directed representation.”  

Through the National Leaders of Color Fellowship, her work with local Tribes, her artistic and farming practices, Breesman will continue learning and feeding the intense curiosity that inspires her. “I’m so new to the region that I feel like I’m still learning a lot. So hopefully that comes across in this piece,” says Breesman. “My worst fear would be to be perceived as somebody who thinks I’m an expert on anything because I’m deeply not. I’m very much a student in life and always.” 

Learn more about the National Leaders of Color Fellowship at www.maaa.org/six-leaders-of-color-from-our-region-selected-for-national-fellowship. Follow Amy June Breesman’s work at www.bluejackethandcraft.com. 

Emily Spradling

Emily Spradling is an adult English-language instructor, freelance writer and founding member of the arts/advocacy organization, No Divide KC. She is particularly interested in the intersections of art, culture and LGBTQ+ issues.

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