Art in the Southwest Air
Choctaw Artists exhibit work during Amarillo and Albuquerque cultural gatherings
By BRET MOSS Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma
Choctaw Nation visited Amarillo Texas on April 5, 2013, bringing with it, culture and news on current tribal issues. Several artists exhibited their work during the event, including Stephen McCullough, Kimbra Simmons and Charlene Dodson.
Stephen McCullough is an Amarillo resident with galleries in Santa Fe, N.M., Scottsdale, Ariz., and Sedona, Ariz. He has been an artist for 25 years following in the footsteps of his twin brother Michael, who has been an artist for 35 years. He had been involved in other careers and decided it was time for a change. “I started in and never looked back,” Stephen proclaimed.
Stephen specializes in image art of the Southwest – painting images that reflect the heritages and cultures of Native Americans in that area. He also paints with non-Southwestern themes, putting trees and other objects to canvas. He displays his work at three of the country’s biggest Native American markets – The Santa Fe Indian Market, the Heard Museum Native Market and Red Earth Market.
He explains his interest in Native American art stems from it being a constant art form. “It is here today, was here yesterday, and will be here tomorrow.” He went on to assert that in today’s art scene, “it’s cool to be native,” but takes pride in the fact that he was displaying his heritage from the start. Stephen was a registered native on the day of his birth and proudly exclaims that he is “an artist who happens to be Native American,” and not just following the trends.
See more about Stephen’s art in the video:
Lubbock, Texas, resident Kimbra Simmons is a Choctaw artist who specializes in many types of crafts including dream catchers, jewelry, beading and leather work. She received her Choctaw connection from her mother as well as her beginnings in art. Since learning the basics years ago, she has been improving her art form with practice and online learning.
Over her time as an artist, Simmons has developed unique ways to construct her dream catchers, weaving them tight on the outside and gradually allowing the weave to become more loose towards the middle, whereas most simply have loose weaves throughout. Larger holes are left amidst the tight portion to “let good dreams pass through,” explains Simmons.
She very much enjoys creating artwork that promotes native culture. “I am very driven to carry on my heritage,” she exclaimed. Not only does she create native artwork, but takes language classes offered by the Choctaw Nation. Simmons’ desire is that the culture of the Choctaw Nation and other native people never fades, but remains strong, and she hopes to contribute to that preservation.
Check out some of Kimbra’s work here:
Artist Charlene Dodson was born in the heart of the Choctaw Nation, in Bokchito, but became a Texan at the age of three. She left the borders of the Choctaw Nation, but the Choctaw Nation remained strong with her as she carried on her love for her heritage through her artwork.
Charlene works mainly in fabrics, printing and beading on quilts, leathers and more. She has enjoyed much success due to her ingenuity through artwork. She began a business called “Fabric Fotos,” where she worked mainly with quilts, which saw success.
Eventually, from licensing fees she earned with her pioneering ways, she was able to open the American Indian Cultural Center. The center allowed representatives from many tribes to rent booths and display artwork from their respective cultures. Dodson served as the director for eight years until her retirement, when she says she “passed the torch” to the Kwahadi Heritage Center.
Though she has retired, Charlene still sells art and art kits that allow individuals to create their own artwork. For example, in her moccasin kit, one may chose a beaded design guide to be placed on the material and one may then learn bead their own design following the printed guide.
Charlene says she has chosen to create native art because “It’s my heritage… I am proud to be Choctaw.” Through her work with the cultural center in Amarillo and the guided beading kits, she feels that she has done well to spread her culture. “I love passing on my heritage,” she declared.
See some of Charlene’s creations here:
Choctaw Nation then visited Albuquerque, N.M. the following day on April 6, 2013, sharing even more of age-old traditions. Artists who presented their creations included Kristin Gentry and David McElroy.
Oklahoma State University graduate Kristin Gentry is a jewelry maker, photographer and much more who now resides in Albuquerque. “I grew up in an artistic family,” said Kristin as she explained her introduction to the life of an artist.
She found she enjoyed art in high school and decided to study it more thoroughly in college. After graduating with a fine art degree, she continued her endeavors by doing gallery art, teaching at community centers. She has felt a connection to art through generations of her artistic family. Her grandfather was a wood carver and her father was an architectural draftsman.
A large portion of Kristin’s work is with wood, creating many pieces of hand-painted jewelry on small sections of wood. “I like working with natural elements,” said Kristin, who also does relief printing. This requires her to carve her designs into wood and then use a hand-crank to press the designs. “It is a very manual art form.”
In her creations, Kristin prefers to utilize tribal designs, mentioning that she mainly sticks with Choctaw designs, but does some Cherokee as well. She states that she chooses to work with wood, even though it is sometimes more difficult. She feels called to the medium because of her grandfather’s work with the material. Kristin is also a skilled painter and photographer.
See the variety of items Kristin crafts here:
David McElroy, a lawyer by profession, is also a silversmith who works with sterling silver to create Native American jewelry. “I have always loved traditional Southwest silverwork,” David stated. “It is such a creative and lasting artform.”
During his time as a lawyer, David spent eight years in the United Kingdom, where he began his silversmith training. He has since developed his skills and is now able to do repousse work, in which he uses a male and female die to press designs from the reverse side of the silver, forcing the shape to appear on the front facing side. He also incorporates semi-precious stones into his work to create a heightened unique quality.
David is the grandson of two original enrollees of the Choctaw Nation, a fact of which he is exceptionally proud. Though silverwork is not traditionally a Choctaw art form and most of his designs are inspired by Navajo and other Southwestern tribes, David hopes to make his medium of choice more associated with the Choctaw Nation.
In his studio located in Santa Fe, N.M., David also makes accessories such as candlesticks, boxes and dishes. He will be exhibiting his artwork in the Santa Fe Indian Market Aug. 16-18.
Learn more about David’s art form here:
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