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Chickasaw artist finds struggle breeds inspiration

LONE GROVE, Okla. – Five forged blades by renowned Chickasaw artist Daniel Worcester – art he considers some of his most innovative to date – are on display at the Artesian Online Art Market.

“These are difficult times,” Mr. Worcester said. “To me, when times are tough, it brings out more artistic expression. In bad times, you could easily forget your art, or you can focus on your art and bring out more of what is inside you as an artist.

“That is what has happened to me. Some of the work on the Artesian Online Art Market is a departure from normal while still retaining my artistic vision. It has brought out more of what is inside me. I think the items have new approaches to my art.”

The Chickasaw artist has been honored throughout his career, including by the Oklahoma Arts Council. He has also been named an “Honored One” at the Oklahoma Red Earth Arts Festival.

The Gilcrease Museum, in Tulsa; The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York; and Eiteljorg Museum of American Indians and Western Art in Indiana, all have Worcester-inspired creations in their permanent collections.

Blades by Mr. Worcester can come in many sizes, but for the most part he works on smaller, detail-rich offerings.

Two of the items, sport blades measuring over eight inches, are unusual for the artist.

Five pieces of art are displayed and available for purchase at the Artesian Online Art Market at ArtesianArtsFestival.com.

“Red Dawn” stretches the dimensions of Worcester’s imagination and was crafted for the Artesian Arts Festival.

Made from a 110-year-old round plow disc, the “Red Dawn” handle is decorated by red dominoes with a rising sun design forged into the 7.5 inch knife. To add a sparkling luster, Mr. Worcester added a sterling silver bolster.

“I think ‘Master Jack’ may be the longest knife I’ve ever forged,” he said. “It is available online. It is more of a meat cleaver or perhaps a machete. It’s an impressive length and has some heft to it. I think it would be classified as a ‘chopper’,” he laughed.

A purple billiard ball was incorporated into the handle for stunning decorative beauty.

The Chickasaw master bladesmith is also experimenting with man-made material in decorative handles, another departure for the Lone Grove artist.

“Golden Child” is made entirely of brass. The work is approximately 9 inches long and the new man-made material being used on the handle has a yellowish tint to complement the brass knife. Red “veins” run through the new material giving it a unique look for collectors and art lovers.

“It is the first time I’ve used entirely one kind of metal in my art,” Mr. Worcester said. “I believe in making the best of whatever the world hands you. I think this piece of art was born out of experimenting and envisioning new art in difficult times.”

“The Patriot” is another example of the artist expanding his artistic vision. At eight inches long, the blade and tang are hand-forged from a railroad spike. The piece is accented with a sterling silver bolster and a multicolored handle that makes it stand out. It is one of the works of which he is most proud to make available to art lovers and collectors.

The handle is red, white and blue. Mr. Worcester – who searches for scrap metal to create his art – also used an old silver tea pot to finish “The Patriot.”

“Nothing goes to waste,” he said, and laughed.

He and his son, J. Daniel Worcester, use his forge to create works of art. J. Daniel has several pieces displayed online as well.

“He (J. Daniel) has finished a tomahawk that he did a great job on,” Mr. Worcester said. “I was impressed.”

Mr. Worcester’s final piece is titled “A New Hand.” It was forged from the springboard of an old buggy, with a brass bolster and multicolored, but predominately blue, handle. Overall, it is nine-and-one-half inches long.

“It is difficult to describe, but I believe it is one of the finer offerings to a collector or anyone who appreciates art,” the artist said. “The handle is ‘saw-toothed’ and gives the piece an unusual symmetry I believe is quite appealing.”

This year would have marked Mr. Worcester’s 25th year of participation in the Southwest Indian Art Market. The Santa Fe, N.M., festival is considered the finest American Indian art show in the world. However, it too has been canceled due to the pandemic. But artists will show their works online.

A couple issues are on Mr. Worcester’s mind as the country slowly begins to reopen. One is “Visual Voices: Contemporary Chickasaw Art.” The other is meeting the needs of collectors nationally and abroad who wish to acquire Worcester art when art shows are closed.

“Visual Voices” was scheduled to open at the University of North Carolina a few months ago. Its opening is officially “postponed,” but Mr. Worcester believes the work of Chickasaw artists probably will open again in San Antonio, Texas this summer.

“I’m not sure it will be completely safe to open the collection in North Carolina,” he said. “There may be a brief showing there, but none of the artists will be attending. I miss, and I am sure everyone misses, not being able to visit with people who attend our show. Those connections are reached through personal contact, which is limited now.

“It’s a different world. I have had a lot of collectors calling me because they cannot attend a show. I have sent them images of my work. I suppose we will see how all this works when we come out the other side.”

Mr. Worcester remains committed to his craft.

“I have not allowed this to affect my life,” he said. “I am pretty much isolated in my shop by myself anyway. I am used to being by myself. Other than what I hear on the news, it hasn’t affected me.”