Chickasaw Nation’s Mahota Textiles profiled in Smithsonian Magazine piece on American artisans

SULPHUR, Okla. - Writer Glenn Adamson has recently profiled the Chickasaw Nation’s Mahota Textiles in “Artisan America: The state of American craft has never been stronger.” The article has been published in the January/February 2021 issue of Smithsonian Magazine.

The piece explores today’s artisan boom. It explores the history, struggles and successes of North American craftsmen and women. Chickasaw weavers Margaret Roach Wheeler and Taloa Underwood are interviewed for the article.

Ms. Underwood said it was almost too good to be true when she first found out the Smithsonian was interested in covering Mahota.

“I told Glenn we would be honored to be included in his article,” she said. “The article is beautifully written, and we couldn’t be happier about our profile in it. The excitement of being in the magazine has not worn off yet for me and I am very blessed to be a part of a great company and a tribe who supports its citizens’ dreams.”

Mr. Adamson has taken a broad, in-depth look at American craft, and pays special attention to First Americans and African Americans. He turned to successful modern creators like Mrs. Wheeler to find insight into a centuries-old story.

“To better understand this great resurgence of craft, I interviewed contemporary makers about their experiences of learning, setting up shop, developing a name for themselves, working with clientele and finally, passing skills on to others,” Mr. Adamson wrote. “I have been fascinated that many stories from the past find continuity with today.”

Across the country, craftspeople are prevailing and overcoming modern challenges, all while preserving and transforming long-standing traditions.

“Wherever you go in the U.S. - country or city, north or south, red state or blue - you will find makers, and communities of support gathered around them,” Mr. Adamson wrote.

Mahota Textiles draws inspiration from Southeastern culture to create elevated and meaningful textiles, designed in Oklahoma and woven in the U.S.

The first textile firm solely owned by a First American tribe, Mahota’s goods draw on Chickasaw themes.

Though only a few years old, the company reaches back generations. It is named for Mrs. Wheeler’s great-great-great-grandmother, who experienced removal in the 1830s.

The Chickasaw Nation’s entrepreneurial spirit and financial backing were key in the realization of Mahota Textiles. So were the three women who have been with it since inception.

Mrs. Wheeler founded Mahota Textiles. Together with Ms. Underwood and businesswoman Bethany McCord, the three brought the company from proposal to reality.

Mrs. Wheeler is introduced in the article as an example of the intertwining of craft and self-determination. She grew up in a house where her mother and grandmother would crochet, knit and embroider, so she picked up the skills early in life. It was through her own determination that she went on to study many art forms and built a career in working with fibers and design.

“Wheeler’s designs reflect a more affirmative aspect of the past, emulating motifs from ancient Mississippian mound-building cultures, as well as more recent traditions of featherwork, beading and quillwork,” Mr. Adamson wrote.

Mrs. Wheeler has taught weaving to family members. That element resonated in the article, and underscored the importance of passing skills on to others.

In the article, Mrs. Wheeler remembered a patron asking her nine-year-old granddaughter how long she had been weaving, prompting the reply, “about seven years now.”

Photographer Shane Brown captured Mrs. Wheeler’s and Ms. Underwood’s likenesses for the article.

Mrs. Wheeler is pictured hand weaving red fabric at a loom. Ms. Underwood is shown smiling in front of a shelf of Mahota blankets stacked and awaiting shipment in the workspace of Mahota Textiles in Sulphur.

“In the end, it’s this combination of ambition, diversity and generosity that most distinguishes the current craft renaissance,” Mr. Adamson concluded, wondering if craft can bring us together in a time when common ground is hard to find.

These ideas are also deeply explored in Mr. Adamson’s book “Craft: An American History.” The volume is described as a groundbreaking and surprising history of how artisans created America.

Other modern artisans featured in the article include Virgil Ortiz, Clayton Evans, John Lavine, Stephen Burks, Yohance Joseph Lacour, Matthew Cummings, Chris Schanck, Michihiro Matsuda, Chris DiPinto, Folayemi Wilson and Norman Teague.

Historical artisans like David Drake, Elizabeth Keckley and Aileen Osborn Webb are also explored.

Ms. McCord said the Smithsonian article was a huge benefit for Mahota, which has big things coming in 2021. Fans and patrons can keep an eye out for new products including silk scarves and cosmetic bag sets, as well as new lines and designs in collaboration with featured Chickasaw artist Dustin Mater.

About Mahota Textiles

What started as an expert weaver’s efforts to reproduce better, more accurate cultural symbols has unfolded into the first textile company envisioned and owned by a North American tribe, the Chickasaw Nation.

Mahota Textiles is an Oklahoma-based weaving company with an emphasis on Southeastern First American designs.

Mrs. Wheeler explained that “Hota” means “pulls apart the threads” or “to separate by hand.” She takes it as a legacy mark, an ancestral sign of what would become her life’s passion.

The threads of Mrs. Wheeler’s maternal heritage are depicted in Mahota Textiles’ company logo. With an aesthetic similar to early hand carved First American glyphs, or perhaps the age rings of a tree, the logo traces five generations of Indigenous women.

“We are makers of art, of story, the threads that connect the inspiration of our ancestors to all of us in a modern world,” Mrs. Wheeler said.

Mrs. Wheeler’s labor of passion is shared with a small team of hardworking women. At her side are the flourishing young weaver Ms. Underwood and the business-savvy Ms. McCord.

They are weaving together generations of tradition with modern processes. In creating artful textiles, Mahota aims to elevate beauty and treasured culture inspired by Southeastern heritage. Their creations tell cultural stories with expressive imagery and soft, warm, woven material.

They work with the finest natural fibers of cotton, wool and linen. No chemicals are ever used in the weaving and finishing of their products. The inherent earthly qualities of these fibers naturally create elegant textiles for everyday use.

You can find Mahota Textiles’ products in various museum shops and stores throughout the U.S. An online retail store is also available at www.MahotaTextiles.com.

Since its launch in October 2018, Mahota Textiles has created waves in the textile and art world. First American Art Magazine named the founding of Mahota Textiles to its Top 10 Native Art Events of 2018.

Mahota Textiles can be found in Sulphur, Oklahoma’s historic downtown, 309 Muskogee Ave. The company showroom and offices are conveniently located near other southeast Oklahoma attractions including the ARTesian Gallery & Studios, Chickasaw Cultural Center, Chickasaw National Recreation Area, Chickasaw Visitor Center and newly designed Oka’ Chokma’si Sculpture Park.

For more information, contact (580) 622-8018 or visit MahotaTextiles.com.