Depicting history with a pen and canvas:
Choctaw artist Theresa Morris to present at Smithsonian
Putting pen to paper and paint to canvas to create images that please the eye and excite the psyche is a talent desired by many. For Choctaw artist Theresa Morris of Tahlequah, this is a gift she realized early and has put to work for herself and her tribe.
Morris will be one of the many talented artists featured at the Choctaw Days event at the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian in June. Her work, Windstar, is one of her many works that will be featured at the venue. This image was featured as the branding image of the Denver Choctaw Day event in 2011.
Morris spent her early childhood years at Oaks Indian Mission in Oaks, Okla. She had two strong influences in her youth who led her to know about her Choctaw heritage. The first was her grandmother who had attended Wheelock Academy in Millerton.
Her mother became interested in the Choctaw culture when she began to write her book, “How Thunder and Lightning Came to be,” which was based on Choctaw legend. After completion of this book, she began her second work, “Longwalkers Journey,” which focused on her own family’s history during the Trail of Tears. “It was then that I became fascinated and started learning more about my own people,“ stated Morris.
Along with a love for her heritage, her passion for art began at a young age. “Art runs through my veins,” declared Morris. Ever since she entered and won her first art contest at Tulsa Indian Youth Camp, she was hooked. “After that art became my passion,” she mentioned.
She took her inaugural first place prize the age of 10, and continued at winning ribbons, trophies and certificates ever since. She continued this activity into her college years where she earned an associate’s degree in art from Tulsa Community College. She then enrolled at Montana State University – Northern where she gained a bachelor’s degree in graphic design with a minor in Native American Studies.
She put her education to work after college designing various items such as business cards and logos for companies. She has done many types of artwork ranging from portraits and landscapes to abstracts and animals.
She was one of the featured artists at NDN Custom Frame and Art Gallery in Tahlequah, and her art was used on the cover of the brochure for the Tahlequah Art Guide, 2011. Some of her work was also displayed at the Five Civilized Tribes Museum in Muskogee. Visitors to the Choctaw Nation gift shop in Tushka Homma will see her work on mugs, tiles and jewelry boxes.
While Morris enjoys all types of art, she has a slight preference for graphite and ink due to her love for the effects of black and white. She has also dabbled in carving, making miniature woodcarvings of peace pipes for Lyon’s Indian store in Tulsa.
“I’m such a perfectionist so I truly get involved with whatever I’m doing,” said Morris as she explained that no matter what type of artwork she has on her agenda, she is always giving 100 percent. She puts such effort because she knows her craft has purpose.
She has hopes that the work she is doing for the Choctaw Nation will bring awareness about her culture to those who have limited knowledge on the subject. She recalls a graphite portrait of former Choctaw Chief Allen Wright, which brought about questions on Choctaw history while on display in Tahlequah.
She was able to educate curious onlookers on the fact that Mr. Wright was the man who suggested the name “Oklahoma” as the name of the state and the Choctaw meanings to the word. Choctaw words “Okla,” meaning people, and “humma” meaning red were combined to make “Oklahoma” which translates to “land of red people.”
She is currently working on a series of portraits featuring the Choctaw Code Talkers of World War 1. She hopes to find information on each Code Talker for that generation to generate a well-rounded work of art.
She has varied interests other than art. “I love older, classic, muscle cars and I know how to work on them. I’ve rebuilt a few engines and I’ve even done some bodywork,” declared Morris. She went on to tell that she has worked at Rocky Mountain National Park as a park ranger, a job she greatly enjoyed.
She recently had a small acting part in the movie “The Cherokee Word For Water.” It is a story about Wilma Mankiller’s role in getting water to the Indian community of Bell, Okla. It was filmed in Tahlequah in October 2011 and is set to be released October of this year.
Morris is the mother of three sons and a daughter. She also has a website for her artwork, “theresamorrisdesign.com” where her art can be viewed. She hopes to start a business in the future, but is currently aspiring to finish her Code Talker series.
She is greatly anticipating her role at Choctaw Days, saying “I hope that kind of exposure opens up many opportunities for me. What I really want is to be successful at what I do and leave a lasting impression.” She continued by saying, “If I can make a living doing art and at the same time bring awareness about the history of the Choctaw and the contributions they have made then I will have succeeded.”
Choctaw Days will be held June 20-23 at the Smithsonian Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C. For more information about the event visit choctawnation.com or call 800.522.6170.