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Press Release

Release Date: December 02, 2020

by Chickasaw Nation Media Relations Office



  • Shelby Rowe’s “21st Century Hatchet Woman” was voted the Southeastern Art Show and Market People’s Choice award-winner.

  • Shelby Rowe

Former Chickasaw Nation Dynamic Woman of the Year Shelby Rowe embraces her creativity

NORMAN, Okla. – When 2016’s Chickasaw Nation Dynamic Woman of the Year decided it was time to make room for her creative side to shine, little did she know her art would win awards.

“I taught myself how to bead, and it turns out I’m good at it,” Shelby Rowe said with a hearty laugh. Her beadwork submission, titled “21st Century Hatchet Woman,” was voted the People’s Choice award-winner for the virtual 2020 Southeastern Art Show and Market (SEASAM).

“I’ve always been inspired by the stories of our legendary Chickasaw hatchet women who are remembered for fiercely defending our villages from the French in the 1720s. This beaded portrait, created on (a) loom, features a young Chickasaw woman of today shown with traditional facial tattoos that were common for our women, along with an unconquerable glare for her opponent and the weapons of choice: hatchets,” Ms. Rowe explained. “She is a modern warrior woman to inspire the generations to come after us and those of us living today of our fierce legacy of strength and protection as Chickasaw women.”

The piece may be artistic, but the theme is close to Ms. Rowe’s heart. Her niece, Californian Hannah Littlefield, served as the model for “21st Century Hatchet Woman.”

Loving her work

Armed with a bachelor’s degree in sociology and philosophy from Oklahoma State University and a master’s degree of business administration from the University of Phoenix, she has devoted her career to suicide prevention and addressing issues of abuse and violence against First American women.

During award ceremonies when she was named Chickasaw Nation Dynamic Woman of the Year, Chickasaw Nation Governor Bill Anoatubby commended her important endeavors and expertise.

“Ms. Rowe exemplifies what it means to be a dynamic Chickasaw woman,” Governor Anoatubby said. “For more than 20 years, she has been serving in public health and has been a leader in suicide prevention since 2007. Her dedication has undoubtedly saved many lives.”

Based in Oklahoma City, she was recently chosen program manager for the Suicide Prevention Resource Center at the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center. “We provide training in suicide prevention to states, tribes and health care systems across the country,” Ms. Rowe said. She is a noted public speaker and trainer, having worked in New York City, Arkansas and Oklahoma, and is nationally acclaimed as an expert in her field. “People Magazine” and “USA Today” have featured her professional accomplishments.

A career in suicide and violence prevention eventually exacts an emotional toll, but Ms. Rowe has learned through her professional training what we feel through personal experience – culture is healing. Ms. Rowe turned to beading to satisfy her creative nature and to escape the stress of her professional career. In fact, she began beading merely three years ago. Inspired by the talented Chickasaw artists at the 2017 SEASAM, she bought a loom at the Artesian Art Studio in Sulphur on her way home and has been beading ever since.

No easy way

In “21st Century Hatchet Woman,” a total of 22,000 beads completed the piece. Beading on a loom is often used to make bracelets and hatbands, but the difficulty increases to create her large, portrait-sized pieces. Ms. Rowe also uses a “brick stitch” for some of her pieces. The technique literally requires beads to be beaded onto the other.

It is tedious. It is time-consuming. But when finished, the brick stitch can give the final artwork a three-dimensional quality. Stepping back or to the sides completely changes the appearance of the work. Colors and textures spring forth, and a rich tapestry is revealed.

“The work I’m doing is intricate. Sometimes the art really comes to life when placed in a translucent frame so light strikes it constantly and changes the look and feel of the work when viewed from different angles, and other times it looks best sewn to a suede or leather backing,” Ms. Rowe stated. “When you are up close, the colors seem wrong, but when you’re at a distance, it gives you shimmer and dimension.”

The technique is difficult to describe, but by visiting ShelbyrRowe.com, one may view a time-lapse of her creations and how she works her magic beading on a loom.

“21st Century Hatchet Woman” is one of three offerings by her at SEASAM.net. It perfectly shows Ms. Rowe’s use of the same colored beads only with differing finishes. She used translucent, matte and opaque beads to give her 2-dimensional works the illusion of multiple dimensions.

Another of her three offerings, “Sacred Bond,” illustrates the trust between a First American warrior and his horse. Eugene Brave Heart is featured in her depiction. He is a Canadian actor and First American most recognized for his role in 2017’s “Wonder Woman.”

Ms. Rowe was juried into the longest-running prestigious First American art show in the nation – New Mexico’s Southwestern Association for Indian Arts (SWAIA) taking place annually in Santa Fe. She intended “Sacred Bond” to be her premiere piece, but the coronavirus pandemic forced SWAIA to be virtual.

“My works do not photograph well. A photo does not capture the dynamics, color, texture and dimensions the eye detects,” she said. “I’ve started working with a professional photographer and hopefully we can find success.”

Another work is titled “High Priestess” and, fittingly, it is a portrait trenched in golden hues of a majestic woman adorned with a crown. Ms. Rowe said an actress friend posed for the portrait while she resided in New York City.

Laura Clark, exhibition program manager for “VISUAL VOICES: Contemporary Chickasaw Art,” approached Ms. Rowe to showcase her work for a show called “Chiefs, Clans and Kin.” Both “High Priestess” and “21st Century Hatchet Woman” will be included in the exhibit, scheduled to take place in Ireland when the pandemic subsides.

“Of course, the relationship between the Five Tribes and Ireland is especially important. I was thrilled to be included,” Ms. Rowe said. “High Priestess” portrays an imagined Druid Priestess and is classic European right down to the subject’s blue eyes and blonde hair.

Proud Chickasaw

Following the tradition of a strong First American woman, Ms. Rowe is involved in the lives of her adult sons, Austin Greer, Trevor Greer and Micaiah Kaiser. She is the daughter of Robert Rowe and Penny Quinnelly, granddaughter of the late Mona Lee Godfrey Rowe and Wayne Rowe, and a descendant of a dynamic Chickasaw woman and 19th century women’s rights movement pioneer, Elizabeth “Betsy” Love Allen.

Ms. Rowe credited her Chickasaw family support for being named Dynamic Woman and her introduction to Chickasaw heritage.

“I’ve always been proud of my Chickasaw heritage and the amazing women in our tribe,” she said. “My life mission has always been to be ready to notice an opportunity to make a difference in the lives of others. I get to do that every day of my career, and I am immensely proud to get to do that as a Chickasaw woman.”

All 2020 SEASAM works of art may be enjoyed or purchased through Dec. 31 by visiting SEASAM.net.