Thursday, April 30, 2009
Learning Chickasaw culture
By SUE WATSON
When Chickasaw Council elder Robert Perry toured the Marshall County area last month, he spent an hour with Friends of the Library, answering questions from the small group assembled on Chickasaw culture and the status of the Nation today.
Perry remarked in opening comments that his book “The Turkey Feather Cape” teaches how to come up with creative solutions to complex problems. He noted that a sign near the City of Memphis emphasizes hard work as a major driver of the educational process in the city.
On the other hand, Perry said inspiration drives creativity, not hard work, although an inspired person usually works hard at his creations.
His tour through Mississippi and Alabama was a trial run for a tour criss-crossing the nation later this year, he said.
A book reviewer describes the author of “The Turkey Feather Cape,” as “an ethnic voice that has not been heard for 500 years.”
“Uprising! Woody Crumbo’s Indian Art” is Perry’s next book which will be coming out in September in conjunction with the opening of the Chickasaw Cultural Center in Sulfur, Okla. The $68 million museum will feature an IMAX theater, a performing arts theatre, a research facility and a 10-acre plot of corn, among its prominent features. The center will be located right off Interstate 35 about 100 miles south of Oklahoma City.
Perry said the uprising concept used in this biography of Crumbo, a Potawatomie artist, is not about war, but about the artist who took Indian art form from folklore to “feeding an artist’s children.”
“In comparison to European art - how long it took Crumbo is an uprising,” he said.
Crumbo is the first American Indian to create reproductions of his original oil paintings using the silk screening process.
“He wanted to get his art out into every state of the Union just to encourage Indian artists,” Perry said.
Perry’s first book, “Life With the Little People,” preceeded “The Turkey Feather Cape,” which he took on as a project from a challenge of the director of the cultural center because the turkey feather cape was a lost art, he said.
He traveled to Cherokee, N.C., first to find what was known about feather capes and learned from archeological descriptions that the cape was constructed years ago on a web made of dogbane twine.
Unable to grow the dogbane to produce the cloth, Perry chose monk’s cloth as a base cloth to attach the feathers. The process of selecting the feathers, cleaning them and attaching them to the monk’s cloth stretched over a form was developed through contemplation upon solutions not already obvious, he said.
Perry obtained the turkey feathers from hunters, dipped the remains of the bird in hot water to destroy bird mites, and then developed a unique technique to prepare a secure loop on the tip of the feather for tying to the monk’s cloth attached to a felt frame.
The cape is full-length and took about 700 tail feathers and three months to make. Flight feathers were used in the cape because of the strength of the quill.
The turkey feather cape was believed to grant supernatural powers to the person who wore it, Perry said. It was worn by Chief Tuscaloosa who met Hernando DeSoto somewhere in Alabama. The feathered cape, however, did not prevent the chief and about 2,500 of his tribe from being massacred by a fire set by DeSoto, he said.
Perry also displayed a bear claw necklace made from tinted glass and artificial fur. He said the idea for the necklace was provided in a dream where the bear asked that the ceremonial necklace be made from artificial materials so no more members of Bear Nation would have to be sacrificed.
The turkey feather cape won first place in a juried art show with the bearclaw necklace taking second place.
The population of the Chickasaw Nation stands at about 40,000 on the roll with about 63 percent of the citizens living beyond the 13-county boundary of the Nation in Oklahoma.
To learn more of Perry’s book visit www.turkeyfeathercape.com.
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