Published February 10, 2016
SULPHUR, OKLAHOMA – Stories of “Panther Woman” prompted Kristen Dorsey to create an entire line of jewelry paying tribute to the strength and perseverance of Chickasaw women.
According to oral tradition, “Panther Woman” helped develop the attack strategy that drove Hernando De Soto from Chickasaw lands after the explorer made unreasonable demands.
This weekend, the renowned Chickasaw jewelry designer will showcase pieces from her new “Panther Woman” jewelry collection at the Chickasaw Cultural Center. On February 13, she will be available all day to discuss her art.
“I have always been drawn to the stories of heroines, women throughout history who display an unrelenting resilience and perseverance,” Ms. Dorsey explained about the collection. “For us, women are our story-tellers and the custodians of tribal history and culture. One story that has been passed down through oral tradition is the story of Panther Woman.”
This crescent shaped necklace is a gorget, Dorsey’s adaptation of an adornment worn by tribal leaders. The two panthers facing a precious gem are major motifs in Dorsey’s new collection.
She said she has always been aware of her Chickasaw heritage as it was passed down through her ancestors on her mother’s side, with the Colbert family. Ms. Dorsey grew up in the golden state, distanced from the ancestral homelands and relocated territories. But that didn’t stop her from engrossing herself in the art and culture of the Chickasaws.
“My art is all about my Chickasaw heritage and my deep love of the natural world,” Ms. Dorsey explained. “I think of Oklahoma as a second home, it’s always comfortable to come here.”
She draws inspiration from her ancestors. She has collected quotes from family members long ago who were struggling to hold on to their lands.
“Their quotes are powerful. They talk about the need to stay where they are, and how much the land means to them. Those are the quotes of my direct ancestors. So I want to create pieces that honor them and carry on their voices,” Ms. Dorsey said.
Her closeness to her heritage emerges through her art in a number of ways, from the motifs and themes down to the metals she chooses to work with.
Her favorite metals are copper and silver, copper for its deep cultural significance, and silver for its malleability.
“I enjoy working with both copper and silver to create stunning, striking pieces. I always try to hint at the duality of everything in life with these metals. Silver and copper, two different tones, the sun and the moon, I combine them and unite them and create a world within a piece,” Ms. Dorsey said.
She views jewelry as a personal art form, unique to the wearer and expressive of who they are.
“It can express what clan you are from, or it can express a moment in time. I make pieces that talk about moments in history, or symbolize the spirituality of my people.”
Sometimes she dreams about a new idea for her jewelry. Sometimes the idea just pops into her mind and she begins work on it. Sometimes an image she sees in the world inspires her.
She started off as a child painting and drawing, making art out of anything she could get her hands on.
“I would be perfectly happy as long as I could hold a pencil and sketch. As long as I had enough paper and art materials, I was fine,” Ms. Dorsey said.
She dabbled in a number of art forms, including fashion and fabric, but found she had a special affinity for metals when she went to college. She has been working with the material since.
Ms. Dorsey’s youth found her growing and learning in Los Angeles, California, enveloped with fashion and art. It also had her spending time exploring the beach and ocean–her Irish father was a marine biologist and taught her to enjoy such environments. The impact of these early years can be felt in Dorsey’s art, just as the appreciation of her cultural heritage can be.
With her jewelry, Ms. Dorsey hopes to preserve and revitalize the rich artistic traditions of her Chickasaw ancestors. She sees herself as reconnecting with the artwork of those who came before. She aims to bring it back to share and teach.
She plans to do just this during the upcoming Feb. 13 and 14 Valentine’s Day Celebration at the Chickasaw Cultural Center, 867 Charles Cooper Memorial Rd, Sulphur, Oklahoma.
Valentine’s Day eve, all day, Ms. Dorsey will be available to discuss her art and showcase pieces from her new “Panther Woman” collection on the first day of the event. Pieces of her work will be on sale.
The celebration runs two days, Feb. 13 and 14, and is filled with Valentine’s activities. It is local, family-friendly and open to the public at no charge.
There will also be cookie decorating, a showing of the film “My Big Fat Greek Wedding,” card making and other Valentine’s crafts during the celebration. Stomp dance demonstrations will be conducted on the cultural center grounds.
To learn more about Chickasaw artist Kristen Dorsey, visit https://www.chickasaw.tv/home/video/evolving-as-an-artist/list/kristen-dorsey-videos. For more information about the Valentine’s Day Celebration, call 580-622-7130 or visit www.chickasawculturalcenter.com.