Chickasaw artists delight festival patrons

By: From Wire Reports
By: From Wire Reports

TISHOMINGO, Okla. – Frequent waves of thunder, periods of heavy rain and squishy footing didn’t stop throngs of art lovers from soaking in the varying delights on display at last Saturday’s Southeastern Art Show and Market (SEASAM).

Paintings, carvings, bows, drums, flutes, photographs and much more were painstakingly positioned on tables lining the walls of the tent that served as a temporary gallery and market.

It is not easy to acquire table space at SEASAM. Artists are juried in, which means art experts have deemed their work worthy of participation.

Chickasaws were well represented.

Jeremy Wallace, a cultural instructor for the Chickasaw Cultural Center in Sulphur, worked numerous hours at this year’s Chickasaw Nation 53rd Annual Meeting and 25th Annual Festival.

His master craftsmanship ensured his involvement, but plenty of friends were asked to substitute for him at his art table piled high with handmade bows, arrows, blow dart guns, drums, and more.

Wallace was frequently busy playing stickball with school children who ventured to the festival to learn about Chickasaw history, culture and tradition.

His is one of the most familiar faces at the cultural center and he exudes a love of all things Chickasaw.

“It is an honor to be here; an honor to have your art judged by others as being good enough for inclusion,” Wallace said while he sat lashing rabbit fur-tipped darts to blow guns he crafted from scratch.

In front of Wallace – as well as all Chickasaw artisans -- was an array of multi-colored award ribbons visually telegraphing to visitors and buyers the traditional Chickasaw crafts stacked before him were judged among the very best.

Across the aisle from Wallace were photographs, a more modern form of artistic expression.

James Wallace embraces the shutterbug within himself that complements a well-traveled, highly-educated thespian, writer, actor and playwright that all seem to coexist as one.

James, who isn’t related to Jeremy Wallace, specializes in capturing images of Native American dancers, regalia, traditions and actions that cross intertribal spectrums.

On a 2012 trip to Gallup, New Mexico, James’ lens captured dancers in full regalia at an intertribal ceremonial dance celebration. From Aztec to Hopi to Chickasaw stomp dancers, his camera burned the sheer beauty, color and pageantry of the people and dance into the eyes of onlookers and admirers.

In 2008, he returned to the Ada area after stints in Los Angeles, New York City, and Great Britain where he earned a master’s degree in contemporary theatre production from the University of Essex. He has written an off-Broadway play and serves the Nation as coordinator of performing arts.

“Being a part of it all (SEASAM) is pretty amazing, really. There is an aspect of it that is completely gratifying, especially when someone expresses an appreciation for your art,” James said, then added with a big smile: “It is the validation we creative types really need.”

Unlike some artists, James doesn’t have an emotional attachment to his photographs. He can sell one knowing full well the image can be reproduced and prepared for the next show.

He, too, was pulling double duty at SEASAM. Not only was he overseeing his table of photographs, but was keeping an eye out for potential buyers for his wife’s splendidly-colored and intricately-fashioned finger-woven sashes, purses, shawls, and even a guitar strap. James is Choctaw but found a Chickasaw woman to be his bride.

Tyra Shackleford, 27, and James were married in February. She is a special projects coordinator at the Chickasaw Cultural Resources Department and frequently participates in stomp dance demonstrations and other activities aimed at preserving the Chickasaw culture while educating visitors about it.

At SEASAM, Tyra spent much of her time performing cultural and heritage tasks while her husband explained her craft to visitors.

Artistic talent and cultural preservation run in the Shackleford family. Next to the Wallace-Shackleford tables, Chickasaw citizen Randy Shackleford, Tyra’s father, was busy showing flutes and canvas paintings. The attention-grabber for the 52-year-old Paoli High School math and computer science instructor were his paintings on turkey feathers he or his wife, Karla, -- they can’t recall which one -- harvested during turkey season.

Shackleford is the quintessential Chickasaw renaissance artist and craftsman. The Noble, Okla., resident knows taxidermy. He makes beaded hat bands, stickball mallets, Native flutes, paints on canvas and on feathers and performs other traditional craftsmanship that oftentimes isn’t for sale, but for use. Those specialties include bows and arrows, deer hides and box turtle shell shakers.

By far, visitors milling around his display table were emotionally awestruck by a painting of a soaring eagle with an American flag fluttering in the background. “Sold” signs popped up on Shackleford’s work with regularity. Unlike his son-in-law, Shackleford expressed a reluctance to sell a few pieces, particularly one he painted on a feather featuring the face of a Chickasaw warrior.

“That’s the first time I’ve ever attempted to paint a person. I’m usually inspired by the natural world -- birds, buffalo, stomp dancing, animals,” the soft-spoken Chickasaw said of his artistic efforts.

On Saturday, Shackleford found himself putting the cherished painting – and the eagle and American flag one – in a weather-proof bag for a buyer who could not leave SEASAM without them.

“I tell myself it is just a hobby. I’m not doing it for a living,” he said.

After 25 years in public classrooms, Shackleford will be able to take his art from “hobby” to “a living” should he choose to do so, but there are a couple of things that might prevent it -- “hunting and fishing,” he said smiling.


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