Press Release

Release Date: May 12, 2017

by Mallory Jones



  • Cherokee gourd carver and finger weaver Karen Berry

  • Cherokee beadwork artist Martha Berry

Mother and daughter duo Martha and Karen Berry are determined to ensure Cherokee art and culture continues for generations to come. They will take another step on that journey as two of 116 elite Native artists selected to participate in the Artesian Arts Festival, May 27 in Sulphur, Oklahoma.

Martha Berry never dreamed beadwork, her “empty-nest baby,” would grow to profoundly change her life and eventually bring her closer to her adult child. After her two daughters left home, Martha dedicated herself to helping revive the traditional Cherokee beadwork that had virtually disappeared.

With a mission in mind, she immersed herself in Cherokee history and collected pictures that offered a glimpse of how Cherokee beadwork might have appeared between the late 1700s through removal in 1838.

By learning the rules and techniques for Southeastern Woodland Native American beadwork and using authentic material of the period -- wool stroud cloth, 100 percent silk ribbon, European glass beads and yarn imported from Peru -- Martha helped bring Cherokee beadwork back to the people.

In 2013, Martha was designated a “Cherokee National Living Treasure,” for her efforts to revive Southeastern Woodland beadwork.

“It’s not something you can achieve and then kick back and relax – it’s the opposite,” Martha said concerning the honor and responsibility of the title bestowed on her. “I felt more of a burden than ever, but it is a nice burden to make sure this art form continues.”

What started out as a way to connect with her Cherokee ancestors evolved into Martha telling the stories of the Cherokee people through each intricately beaded piece.

“I always, particularly with bandolier bags, make sure to tell a story,” Martha said. “That’s what elevates it from being a craft to being an art. If you can express an emotion and that emotion touches the viewer – that is art.”

A SHARED PASSION

Martha’s “empty-nest baby” actually helped bring her closer to her own daughter Karen, who was so inspired by her mother’s efforts to revive traditional beadwork that she began to pursue Cherokee culture in her own way. Karen built on her own skills in woodworking and crochet and began teaching herself gourd carving and finger weaving.

“Karen does such great work,” Martha said. “To share that with her in addition to our mother-daughter relationship means a lot. It means everything to see any young Cherokee picking up the torch and carrying it, but to have it be my daughter means so much.”

Karen practices the technique of oblique, or open-faced, finger weaving which is unique to Southeastern Woodland tribes.

Gourd carving captivates Karen’s creative side. By mere examination, she can envision what design and shape it should take.

“With the gourd carving, I usually ‘carve out time’ on the weekends to get outside and get sweaty and covered in dust,” Karen said with a chuckle. “I’ll do my finger weaving every evening while watching television. It’s very therapeutic.”

She focuses on natural elements while integrating pre-European contact and modern Cherokee designs in the carving.

Her latest carving “Council House” depicts seven trees representing seven Cherokee clans coming together for council.

Most of all, Karen is pleased she still enjoys creating art and expressing herself without treating the hobby as a job. Sharing a booth at art shows and entering competitions allows the pair to spend quality time together.

“It’s really nice to have people see the Berry name and I’m proud to say I’m a Berry,” Karen said.

Both are looking forward to the Artesian Arts Festival. Being newcomers to the festival, Martha and Karen are excited to feature their creations of beadwork, gourd carvings and finger weaving. They are thrilled to be in the presence of many other talented Native artists.

This year’s festival will spotlight the creative talent of many nationally and internationally acclaimed artists.

“I’ve always said that a really good art show is equal parts inspiration and intimidation,” Martha said. “You see this incredible work and think ‘what am I doing here?’ but then you think ‘I’m so inspired by this, I want to go home and create art.’”

Martha will be bringing her renowned traditional Cherokee beadwork, including small pieces, a purse and beaded gourdgets.

Karen is offering her bigger gourd carvings and finger-woven pieces like small bracelets at the festival while also demonstrating the extraordinary technical requirements involved in finger weaving.

CONTINUING THE TRADITION

Undoubtedly, Martha and Karen will continue to preserve Cherokee art through their dedication to the craft and its tribal history.

“Crumb by crumb, we are building a feast of knowledge,” Martha reflected. “Honoring the ancestors is the most important thing.”

Their work is currently on display in the “Rekindled: Contemporary Southeastern Beadwork” exhibit at the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Seminole Indian Museum in Clewiston, Florida.

The duo both have websites where their artwork can be viewed. Martha’s beadwork collection can be seen on www.berrybeadwork.com and Karen’s delicate finger weaving and creative gourd carvings are showcased on www.joy13.com.

Follow Martha and Karen’s journey at their respective Facebook accounts, www.facebook.com/berrybeadwork and www.facebook.com/KarenBerryCherokee.

The Artesian Arts Festival will be at the Artesian Plaza located adjacent to the Artesian Hotel and Spa, 1001 W. First Street, Sulphur, Oklahoma.

Last Updated: 09/16/2016