Umsted exhibits great pride in tribe through art, utilizes family experiences as inspiration
Eager eyes and ears will be taking in Choctaw Days at the Smithsonian again this summer.
Artist Janie Umsted is very proud to have the opportunity to be one of the chosen few to show her Native American artwork at the National Museum of the American Indian.
“It is such a great honor for me to be chosen by the Choctaw Nation to be one of the Choctaw artists to travel to Washington, D.C., this summer,” said Umsted; however, this will not be the first time Umsted will be visiting this particular museum. “I was so fortunate to be able to be with the Choctaw delegation at the grand opening of the museum several years ago,” she said. “I thought my heart would burst with pride to be a part of such a beautiful display of pride in our heritage of the first Americans.”
Umsted possesses a rich Choctaw family history, which she cherishes. “My great-great-great-grandfather was Peter Pitchlynn, chief during the Civil War,” she said. “My great-uncle was William F. Semple, chief right after Oklahoma statehood in the early 1920s.
“My great-aunt, Dr. Anne Semple, was one of the earliest Choctaw women in Oklahoma to receive a PhD and was the only Choctaw woman to be named as Oklahoma Poet Laureate of Oklahoma,” continued Umsted. “She also wrote the History of the Oklahoma Presbyterian College,” which site now serves as the tribal headquarters of the Choctaw Nation.
Another family member of hers experienced the Trail of Tears firsthand, she said. “This is a family history of which I am extremely proud.”
Umsted said to have the opportunity to return to the Museum of the American Indian and share her art is unbelievable, and she plans to have a number of her paintings and perhaps some small sculptures on display during the event.
She gained her initial experience as an artist at the University of Oklahoma, graduating in 1969 with a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree, and has been working professionally in art ever since.
Even before she was able to gain a formal education to further her artistic career, Umsted’s family played a part in her growing talent. “I am from a very artistic Choctaw family and all of my art training started early in life,” she stated.
She said her training was considered very traditional and academic in style and was very predictable as far as results. “By that, I mean that I was taught to draw and paint from a realistic point of view,” she explained.
Today, Umsted practices a form of art entitled “Batik,” which she calls a very unusual and unpredictable technique that she has been doing for over 40 years and is mostly self-taught. The Batik process involves materials such as melted wax, brushes, dyes and fabric.
Umsted plans to feature pieces she has used Batik to create at her exhibit during Choctaw Days, as well as some works done using acrylic paint.
Overall, she plans to have artwork that reflects her theme of “A Military History of the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma,” which was inspired by men in her family who have served in the military.
“My father was a bomber pilot in World War II and received numerous medals, including the Distinguished Air Cross,” she said proudly, adding that her brothers are both graduates of the Naval Academy. “They are proud of their Choctaw heritage and proud of their military service.”
Along with Umsted’s theme of the Choctaw Nation’s involvement with our nation’s military, she also plans to create for her display a piece that highlights the Choctaw game of stickball, a piece entitled “Little Brother of War,” and pieces paying respect to the Choctaw Color Guard, the Code Talkers and the Veteran’s Day Celebrations of the Choctaw Nation. “I will be incorporating both the Choctaw flag and the United States flag in much of my work,” she added.
Umsted’s exhibit is sure to demonstrate the great pride she has for her Choctaw tribe, and therefore show many museum visitors how tradition-oriented the great Choctaw Nation is and the respect its tribal members hold for its culture. “To have the opportunity to display my artwork at the Museum of the American Indian is one of the highlights of my career and my life,” she said.