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Press Release

Release Date: May 23, 2017

by Chickasaw Nation Media Relations Office



  • Chickasaw artist Tyra Shackleford shows the delicate “flower” pattern she is weaving in a “sprang” shawl for the Fourth Annual Artesian Arts Festival. The show will get underway at 9 a.m., Saturday in Sulphur, Oklahoma.

  • This “twined” bag with finger woven strap is titled “oshiitiik,” which means daughter in the Chickasaw language. Chickasaw artist Tyra Shackleford began making it when she was expecting her daughter, Zora Rose. It was finished a little after Zora Rose celebrated her first birthday.

ADA, Okla. – Chickasaw women perfected a particularly difficult hand-woven textile design centuries ago.

It’s making a comeback as a celebrated Native artist attempts to rediscover ancestral heritage through her art, giving it a futuristic twist.

Tyra Shackleford is working on an elegant shawl she hopes will be her signature piece of art at the Fourth Annual Artesian Arts Festival which kicks off May 27 in Sulphur, Oklahoma.

“I hope to finish it in time for the show,” she said. “The technique is called ‘sprang’ and it is intricate and time consuming.

“My ancestors made these in the Mississippi homelands. It is important not to lose sight of the old ways,” said Shackleford. “The technique takes me closer to my roots and to ancestors before me.”

“Sprang” was introduced to Shackleford by internationally acclaimed Chickasaw weaver Margaret Roach Wheeler, whose fashions and loomed textiles have dominated the genre for years.

Any number of garment styles can be created with sprang, including elegant women’s finery.

A Shackleford sprang shawl won First Place and Best of Division at the prestigious Southwest American Indian Art (SWAIA) show and market in 2016. Held annually in Santa Fe, New Mexico, SWAIA is a prime art competition venue for Native Americans.

“My intention was to create a garment that could be worn on the ‘red carpet,’’’ Shackleford said of the award-winning shawl.

TAKING TIME

“All of my creations are woven by hand and it is very time-consuming. I don’t use a loom. I do have a frame for the technique but all the weaving it still performed by hand,” she said.

The frame is 6 feet tall. The artist sits in a chair in front of the frame; the material hanging loose until she begins the process of weaving and twisting it to make the shawl.

The shawl taking top honors in New Mexico was woven loosely. The garment Shackleford is working on now is a much tighter weave, therefore it requires more material. The “threads” making up the shawl are considerably finer as well.

Shackleford said she is still learning the sprang technique. She points to the award-winning shawl as an example.

“I was weaving the shawl loosely and when I removed it from the frame it expanded a lot more than I expected,” she said. “I was expecting it to be about 3 feet wide. In reality, off the frame, it expanded to almost floor-length.”

For more than a year, she did not show the shawl because she was disappointed in how it turned out. She made modifications to the garment, but it still did not meet her high quality standards.

When she finally did show it, awards rolled in.

“The technique has a very rich history all over the world. Native Americans used it. The possibilities with the technique are endless,” Shackleford said. “It is going to be a classy and very fine piece.”

MODERN ADAPTATION

While the technique may be ancient, Shackleford’s vision is “contemporary, innovative and new. For a long time, my work has represented the traditional and I still enjoying doing those pieces, but now I am asking ‘what else can I do with this technique,’” she said. “It is the direction I’m moving in now.”

If the shawl is not completed in time for the Artesian Arts Festival, Shackleford’s signature piece will be a hand-woven bag – using a technique called twining – with an ornate red rose, decorative leaves and long fringe. The strap is a beautiful decorative red and blue and it is finger woven.

The bag is titled “oshiitiik,” which means daughter in the Chickasaw language. Shackleford was expecting daughter, Zora Rose, when she began the bag. She did not finish it until Zora Rose was approximately a year old. It looks embroidered but it isn’t. It was entirely completed by hand.

Her art also is a part of an effort by 15 Chickasaw artists who will show their talents in a 2018 national traveling exhibit called “Visual Voices.”

The task will be to create more modern Indian art. “One of the big challenges of the show is art will be more contemporary,” Shackleford said. “Being accepted into this makes me push myself to create more modern and less traditional items.

“I love that. It really intrigues me how I can take these very traditional techniques and create innovative pieces. I’m having fun exploring all these avenues.”

The Artesian is the first of five shows planned by Shackleford in 2017.

In June, she will travel to the Eiteljorg Museum of American Indians and WesternArt located in Indianapolis, Indiana, as part of the Indian Market and Festival. She has been accepted into competition at SWAIA in August. She returns to ready herself for competition at the Chickasaw Nation-sponsored Southeastern Arts Show and Market (SEASAM) in October. One week after SEASAM, Shackleford will be competing in the Cherokee Art Market in Tulsa.

Her greatest joy is getting “our voice out there about the Chickasaw Nation and Chickasaw art,” Shackleford said.

“It (art festivals) is one of the best experiences. You meet artists from other tribes and you share your heritage. You have the opportunity to introduce buyers to the Chickasaw tribe and artists. That pleases me very much.”

About The Artesian Arts Festival

Hosted by the Chickasaw Nation at the Artesian Plaza, more than 100 esteemed artists representing 25 Native American tribes throughout the United States and Canada will be featured during the Artesian Arts Festival, Saturday, May 27. The Artesian Plaza is located adjacent to the Artesian Hotel and Spa, 1001 W. First Street. Festivities begin at 10 a.m. and end at 6 p.m.

For more information, contact the Chickasaw Nation Division of Arts & Humanities at (580) 272-5520, or by email at artistinfo@chickasaw.net.

Last Updated: 09/16/2016