As a gift to his mother, Cherokee artist Bryan Waytula created this ceramic pot which includes a testament to his grandmother Betty Scraper Garner. Waytula’s mother and grandmother were pivotal in his artistic development.
Published May 27, 2018
SULPHUR, Okla. — Cherokee master craftsman Betty Scraper Garner bestowed a lifetime of insight and artistry upon her descendants when she taught three generations of traditional basket weavers and creators.
In honor of the 1993 Cherokee National Treasure, her daughter Vivian Garner Cottrell and grandson Bryan Waytula carry her legacy forward with their own creations during the 2018 Artesian Arts Festival.
The making of a family legacy
Vivian Garner-Cottrell, of Kansas, Oklahoma, learned to weave traditional Cherokee baskets from her mother Betty Scraper Garner when she was young.
When Vivian Garner Cottrell of Kansas, Oklahoma, was in the eighth grade, her mother Betty Scraper Garner began teaching her how to make baskets using white oak splits and honeysuckle. Splits were broad and stiff and made for sturdier baskets. Honeysuckle was light, pliable and perfect for her young hands.
Mother and daughter would gather honeysuckle runners, soak them in water and then pull each runner through a cleaning pad to remove the bark. After the runners dried, they rolled and tied them for storage until the material was needed for weaving.
“While being taught to weave, mom told me that weaving and praying goes hand in hand. As you weave, pray for those needing the creator’s healing. The end result is a good basket,” Cottrell said.
Cottrell recalls selling her work to area gift shops to bring more money into the household.
“One day, my mother told me to take my baskets to a gift shop located across from the tribal complex,” Cottrell remembered. “The owner would buy my baskets at 10 cents an ounce. I watched him as he placed each basket on a scale and marked down the weight.”
Anyone who has held a reed basket would attest, though they are rugged, they are light. Mother Betty was not pleased with the bounty young Cottrell’s many hours of hard work had fetched at the shop.
“When I was ready to take more baskets to the shop owner, mom told me to wet the baskets first and let them air dry a little while before taking them to sell.” Cottrell said. “Mom didn’t like anyone being taken advantage of. She thought the work it takes to weave baskets was worth more than 10 cents an ounce.”
“We didn’t think that our baskets would become so collectible. We just made baskets and sold them for extra money,” Cottrell said.
Cottrell weaved together with her mother for nearly 25 years. She was named a 1995 Cherokee National Treasure in basketry, just like her mother.
“I weave baskets because I shared the love and respect for our Cherokee culture with my mother, grandmother, aunts and siblings,” Cottrell said. “It is imperative I share our family and native history with my grandchildren. They need to know who they are and where they came from.”
She is often tapped by her tribe to teach the cultural craft, like Cottrell’s two-month exhibit at the Cherokee Arts Center in Tahlequah in 2017 or her long-running involvement with Cherokee Days at the National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C.
Cherokee National Treasures — such as this mother-daughter duo — are honored for making major contributions or offering a lifetime commitment to the Cherokee culture. As an award, it is given to those who are reviving and preserving Cherokee cultural practices.
This rings as true for Cottrell as for her mother. It also rings true for Bryan Waytula, grandson to Betty and son to Vivian, who carries on the family’s legacy of skilled Native American artists and craftsmen.
The family tree branches a new direction
On the shoulders of giants, Bryan Waytula carried his family’s line of artistic creativity forward into a new generation; only, he made it his own. Waytula specializes in the visual art of drawing.
Bryan Waytula’s drawing Mother Earth depicts his own mother, Vivian Garner-Cottrell, in her youth, dressed in her regalia. It is a representation of Mother Earth taking human form.
He is a graphic artist who hails from Sand Springs, Oklahoma, and is known for two drastically different styles. With a more interpretive use of repetitive circles, he mediates emotional tone and plays with eye-catching color. In contrast, he also dives into photorealistic imagery in his depictions of Native American subjects and sports figures.
A glance at his portfolio uncovers Waytula’s knack for still life and portraits. A deeper dive exposes his selection of animal art, children’s books and coloring books.
Though he admits he isn’t as gifted in the art of basketry as his matrilineal heritage, it is something he recalls sharing with his mother and grandmother and something for which he holds a deep respect.
“I was amazed at what they could do with their hands and how they taught us the traditional way of making baskets,” Waytula said.
He said his grandmother always supported creativity in any form and suggested he try drawing.
One of Waytula’s pieces, Cherokee Treasure, employs his unique use of many small, colorful circles to honor Betty Scraper-Garner in a blue gown weaving a basket out of reed.
Almost like the pointillism seen in Georges Seurat’s 1884 A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte, an up close viewing of the artwork is an entirely different experience than a look from far away.
Waytula’s mother is the subject for one of his most popular and best-selling drawings, “Mother Earth.” It depicts Cottrell in her youth, dressed in regalia. It is a representation of Mother Earth taking human form. He used many bright colors to bring to mind the warm core of the earth, the vibrant grass and trees, the mountain ranges, plains, canyons, soil, streams and oceans.
“My mom is a Cherokee Treasure, but each story she tells, prayer she says and basket she weaves is a treasure all its own,” Waytula said.
“I would love to one day hold the honor of Master Craftsmen as my mother and grandmother. I hope to make them proud with the artwork I do to spread our heritage and stories,” he said.
Anyone interested in catching a peak of Waytula’s drawing can find them on display through May 12 at the ARTesian Gallery and Studios, 100 W. Muskogee St. in Sulphur. The ARTesian Gallery and Studios is open 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday-Friday, and 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Saturday.
For a more face-to-face experience with Waytula or Cottrell, a trip to Sulphur over Memorial Day weekend for the Artesian Arts Festival might be a better option.
The Artesian Arts Festival
The Chickasaw Nation is hosting the 2018 Artesian Arts Festival, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., Saturday, May 26, at the Artesian Plaza. Vivian Garner Cottrell and Bryan Waytula have both planned artist booths for the event.
A celebration of all types of art, with an emphasis on Native American art and artists, the Artesian Arts Festival features diverse art media and a variety of visual art including paintings, basketry, jewelry, sculpture, metalworking, bead work, textiles and pottery.
Open to the public at no charge, this family-friendly event features children’s activities, food trucks, live music performances and more.
The Artesian Plaza is located adjacent to the Artesian Hotel and Spa, 1001 W. First Street, Sulphur. For more information, contact Chickasaw Nation Arts & Humanities at 580-272-5525 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.