Release Date: May 18, 2023
by Chickasaw Nation Media Relations Office
A Chickasaw master craftsman and renowned woodworker has dominated the weaponry division at the last two Chickasaw Nation arts festivals.
Richard Thomas’ multi-faceted weapon won the first-place ribbon at the Artesian Arts Festival conducted here April 22 with more than 10,000 patrons touring artists’ booths, admiring their work and inquiring about items on display.
Last October at the Southeastern Art Show and Market (SEASAM) – conducted annually in conjunction with the Chickasaw Annual Meeting and Festival – Thomas took top honors in weaponry.
So impressive was his work, “Endeavor to Persevere,” the Chickasaw Nation purchased it for display in the new Aiitafama' Ishto (Chickasaw for large meeting place) structure built near the historic Chickasaw National Capitol Building in Tishomingo.
At the Artesian Arts Festival, “Gunsmoke,” a war club, took top honors. The weapon’s history is mesmerizing.
“I wouldn’t say they were common, more unique. I’ve seen antique photos of them in possession of First Americans. What makes the weapon so important is First Americans fashioned them from destroyed gunstocks following a battle,” he said.
Thomas explained fractured gunstocks from flint-fired rifles were heavy, bulky and easy to make into a tool very destructive to the enemy.
“Our ancestors made them with a large, really sharp metal blade for slashing. It was used as a bludgeon or cudgel. At the lower end of the weapon, grooves were carved out to a point, so a hard thrust to the ribs or underarms would dispatch or incapacitate a foe on the battlefield,” he said.
Thomas’ dedication to keeping weapons authentic is a source of “discovery for me. I always check to see if it is historically accurate, and I research weapons a lot,” he said.
The SEASAM prize winner “Endeavor to Persevere” is designed after a lethal weapon carried by First Americans into battle.
Thomas said the weapon was carved from a single piece of solid walnut. It is 21 inches long, 4 inches wide and 10 inches high when displayed on an aged copper rod and petrified wood stand acquired at Hobine Ranch in Strong City, Oklahoma.
“I studied the weapon and thoroughly researched it,” he said. “I must have looked through dozens of books! I wanted it to be an accurate and historic depiction of what a Chickasaw warrior would carry into battle.
“I took my time carving this one,” he said with a broad smile. “I have many hours tied up in it, and I’m pleased the Chickasaw Nation has it and will display it for others to enjoy.”
Another celebrated Chickasaw artist reintroduced his realistic portraits of First Americans in addition to leatherwork, jewelry, keychains, and gorgets to his already expansive paintings and “spirit” art.
Lance Straughn’s “Healer” was his premiere piece at the Artesian Arts Festival. The problem for festivalgoers was it sold at the artists reception the night before the festival opening, but the new owner allowed it to be displayed at his booth.
The painting depicts an elder Chickasaw medicine woman holding a tortoise shell shaker.
“I have always admired First Americans who keep alive natural healing and healthy living,” Straughn said when explaining the inspiration to create the painting.
“There probably aren’t as many healers today as when I was a child,” he said. “But the healing arts are not lost. There are tribal members who are still practicing and learning while passing it down to younger generations.”
Another Straughn attention-getter was a sculpture of a Chickasaw warrior, bow and arrow at the ready with a wide stance and even balance. “A Shot from the Bluffs” kept with traditional Straughn sculpting themes of warriors, busts of individuals and his love for animals Chickasaws would have encountered since the dawn of time.
“I am pleased with how it turned out,” he said as patrons quizzed him about it. “I will tell you that getting the sculptures bronzed these days is financially just out of sight. It is so expensive,” he lamented.
Straughn resurrected one of his best portraits to showcase realism since he began creating “spirit” art a few years ago, which is more surreal and expressionistic. Two Straughn paintings – “Night Run” and “Bear Clan Guardian” – are in the permanent collection of the Interior Museum in Washington, D.C. The museum is managed by the United States Department of the Interior and contains more than 1,500 pieces of fine art.
The painting of Cherokee film star Wes Studi was inspired by his role as “Toughest Pawnee” in the 1990 megahit “Dances with Wolves.”
Straughn finished the Studi portrait a few years ago but displayed it along with more recent “spirit” art and paintings inspired by New Mexico.
After decades of fine-tuning sculpting and painting techniques, Straughn completely abandoned traditional art for a time to explore “spirit” art.
He cannot fully explain it. “I paint what I feel. Perhaps I paint from a force that inspires my brushstrokes and color options,” he said of the process.