Geo Neptune, a Passamaquoddy two-spirit artist, is pictured in this Sept. 2020 file photo. Credit: Linda Coan O'Kresik / BDN

Passamaquoddy artist Geo Soctomah Neptune was awarded a $50,000 fellowship through United States Artists for their work in black ash basketry.

Neptune, 32, a non-binary, two-spirit artist and educator, became the first openly transgender person elected to public office in Maine in early September.

The award, given to artists across 10 creative disciplines, recognizes artists working and living in the United States. Each year, artists are anonymously nominated to apply for the award, according to United States Artists.

The 2021 class represents 60 artists from 24 states and Washington, D.C., with Neptune being the only artist from Maine.

“This award is going to change a lot for me. It is going to allow me to take my art to places I have only been able to imagine before, and dedicate time to pieces I have always wanted to make,” they told the Portland Press Herald. “I am finally at a point I can take the time and energy needed to do all that.”

Neptune learned basketmaking primarily under the tutelage of their grandmother, Molly Neptune Parker, a nationally celebrated Passamaquoddy artist who passed away in June. Their work is often adorned with spiritually and culturally significant birds and flowers, as well as the berries and acorns beloved by Parker.

Neptune made their first sweetgrass basket at age 5 and their first sale at age 7. At 11, they began teaching with the Maine Indian Basketmakers Alliance, becoming the youngest Master Basketmaker at age 20, according to United States Artists.

United States Artists has awarded more than $30 million of direct support to more than 600 artists and cultural practitioners.