| TAHLEQUAH, OK Three Cherokee artists were honored as
Cherokee National Treasures this year before the Cherokee National
Holiday during Labor Day weekend.
One is a talented painter. One is a beadwork artist who brought
Southeast beadwork back to the Cherokee people, and the other is
a river cane flute maker and cultural specialist.
Donald Vann, 63, grew up in Stilwell in Adair County mimicking the
drawings of his uncles. He spent time in nature camping and hunting
with his grandfather. Those memories would one day become a part
of his paintings.
Shortly before his high school graduation, he dropped out and
enlisted in the U.S. Army. Vann served in the Vietnam War with the
1st Calvary Aviation Division as a door gunner on a helicopter,
dropping off and extracting soldiers from the battlefield.
After the Army, he began his art career painting the images
of his Cherokee heritage. As Native American art's popularity grew
in the 1970s, Vann's skills were in demand, and he soon found himself
with a business partner starting a publishing company called Nuwoduhi
Galleries, later renamed Native American Images. Before long, Vann's
artwork was displayed in galleries across the world, on television
shows and movies and in the homes and offices of private collectors.
"If I can make people see with their hearts and feel with their
eyes, then I have succeeded," he said.
Today, Vann makes his home and studio in Tahlequah with his
family. He takes the occasional tour of galleries across the country,
but most of his work is now showcased and sold online, including
originals, prints and even low-cost posters.
"Of all the awards I have received throughout my 53 year career,
receiving one from my peers and the Cherokee Nation have meant the
most to me," Vann said of the National Treasure Award. "I am honored
artist Martha Berry was born and raised in Tulsa. Her grandmother
and mother taught her to sew and embroider at age 5, and she later
became a professional seamstress. Berry creates elaborately beaded
bandolier bags, moccasins, belts, knee bands, purses and sashes
inspired by the styles of Southeastern tribes, including the Cherokee,
Creek, Choctaw, Chickasaw, Seminole, Yuchi and Alabama. Her work
is displayed in museums throughout the country.
"When I was first told I had been designated, I thought I'd
feel a real sense of completion. Now that it is here, my feeling
is much more one of rededication," Berry said. "I've always wanted
to do good work, in order to build my own name. But now, it isn't
just my name on my work. I now represent all the other National
Treasures and the Cherokee people as a whole. I'm anxious to do
even better work, to continue to live up to the honor and trust
that has now been placed in me."
Berry, 65, of Tyler, Texas, taught herself the craft of beading
and continues to research the beadwork of Southeastern tribes. She
said Cherokee beadwork evolved from the trade network Cherokee people
established with white traders in the 1600s. Glass seed beads, steel
needles, silk thread and ribbon and cloth made of wool were traded
for or bought from Europeans. By the late 1700s, Cherokee bead workers
were skilled at their craft using trade materials.
After 1840, Cherokee beadwork and the number of Cherokee bead
workers dwindled due mostly to the forced removal of the Cherokees
from their Southeastern homelands in 1838-39. Berry said following
the removal the Cherokee people had no place in their lives for
luxury items such as beaded moccasins, belts and leggings.
She is credited with helping bring back beadwork to the Cherokee
people and teaches others her craft.
"Although this is the highest honor I have ever received, or
will ever receive, I do not feel it closes a circle at all. I feel
a rejuvenation, a vigor and an anticipation for the future. I want
to make beautiful things. I want to teach more and more people to
do the same, and I want to grow more and more teachers of traditional
Cherokee beadwork. This wonderful moment is just the beginning,"
flutist and cultural specialist Tommy Wildcat of Park Hill has educated
people about Cherokee culture since 1988. He works for the Cherokee
Nation as a cultural specialist and travels the country with the
CN and on his own to share Cherokee culture, language and history.
He also shares traditional Cherokee songs using his five-holed Cherokee
river can flutes, which he makes by hand.
Wildcat, 46, was honored as "Flutist of the Year" at the 2002
Native American Music Awards. His music is heard in CN facilities
and at many historic sites in northern Georgia.
"I'm very honored to be a National Treasure. It brings back
the many years with my father (Tom), a National Treasure, of the
25 years of learning and teaching our heritage to family and friends,
and the thousands of venues that I toured by myself or with my father,
family or friends," Wildcat said. "I'm very happy and grateful for
The Cherokee National Treasure project began in 1988 to honor
artisans and preserve and revive artistic practices that may be
lost from one generation to the next. They are selected because
they have shown skill, cultural and historical knowledge and are
committed to education and cultural preservation.