Vol. LIV No. 6
June 2019

Museum unveils world-class Chickasaw art exhibit

NORMAN, Okla. – Five years ago, Gov. Bill Anoatubby quizzed Chickasaw artists about creating a traveling exhibit of world-class Chickasaw art.

His inquiries swept through the Southeastern Art Show and Market (SEASAM) quickly, Chickasaw artist Brent Greenwood recalled.

“It was the buzz of SEASAM that year,” Mr. Greenwood said. “We were saying ‘Hey, did the Governor talk to you? Yeah, he talked to me, too’.”

Artists were delighted the Chickasaw leader was sharing his vision and planning for the future.

That vision became reality June 7 at the University of Oklahoma Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art when “Visual Voices” unveiled more than 65 works by 15 Chickasaw artists at a VIP reception and special viewing.

“This really is a dream come true, isn’t it?” Gov. Anoatubby asked the opening’s overflow gathering.

“Absolutely. This exhibit required the collaboration of expert curators, featured artists and the American Indian Cultural Center Museum (to create) this unique, world-class art exhibit. Visual Voices is special for a number of reasons. It showcases Southeastern Native American art and, more specifically, Chickasaw art in ways that have never been seen before.

“Southeastern art has been underrepresented in the Native American art world for far too long,” he said. “It’s time to change that (and) this exhibit stands to change (that) trend. This exhibit will share Chickasaw art with the world.”

Gov. Anoatubby envisioned “Visual Voices” as a way to launch Southeastern and Chickasaw art into a place of prominence in both the Native American art world as well as the contemporary art world.

“The exhibit blends the traditional with the contemporary in unique and novel ways,” he said. “Our artists have done an amazing job. They have taken traditional Chickasaw culture and made it modern. They have contextualized what it means to be Chickasaw in the here and now – showing how Chickasaw culture continues to evolve, adapt and thrive today.”

Direction and decisions were assigned to “Visual Voices” Chickasaw Artist Board, comprised of exhibiting participants.

Renowned potter and sculptor Joanna Underwood-Blackburn served as chairman and Kristen Dorsey, a celebrated California jewelry designer, vice-chair. Board members included internationally recognized textile artist, weaver and garment maker Margaret Roach Wheeler, master metalsmith and forger Daniel Worcester and Brent Greenwood, whose avant-garde paintings coupled with traditional visual concepts, have won numerous awards and private commissions.

Ten additional artists include Bill Hensley, whose linear/cubist portraits of historical Chickasaw figures have earned critical acclaim; Joshua Hinson, whose gar fish drawing was accepted by Pendleton Woolen Mills as the first blanket featuring Southeastern tribal art; Norma Howard, who developed a watercolor technique called basket weave strokes; Lisa Hudson, a digital photographer specializing in capturing brief moments in time; and 2017 Dynamic Chickasaw Woman of the Year Brenda Kingery, whose abstract paintings, called “narrative symbolism,” are brilliantly colored and thought provoking.

Additional artists include Dustin Mater, whose mixed media work in all genres has found permanent homes in the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian as well as in private collections abroad; Paul Moore, whose reflections of modern life through various techniques and media engage all art lovers; Erin Shaw, a painter who believes “we are collectors of stories and stories we collect shape the people we are;” Tyra Shackleford, a renowned hand weaver and textile artist who has won awards at the top Native art shows in America; and Maya Stewart, a textile specialist in wall hangings and handbags.