OK Lisa Rutherford's studio space in the Cherokee Arts Center
is a testament to her artistic interests. Her pottery in the room
mixes with her textile and beadwork. Also in the room are loose
goose feathers that are to be part of capes she's creating because
she's one of a handful of Cherokee artists who can make feathered
capes and the only one currently doing so.
Rutherford said pottery is her primary art form, learning from
Cherokee National Treasure Jane Osti of Tahlequah. However, she
also studied Southeastern-style beadwork with Cherokee National
Treasure Martha Berry of Tyler, Texas. And somewhere along the way,
some Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians friends sparked her interest
in 18th-century Cherokee clothing, helping her create outfits from
She now demonstrates making traditional Cherokee arts at shows
and other events dressed in 18th-century Cherokee clothing. But
while researching Cherokee clothing and how tribal pottery was stamped
with textiles she became interested in feather capes that were once
worn by Cherokee people.
Eastern Band had feather capes, and I wanted one too to go with
my 18th-century clothing," she said. "(Hernando) de Soto described
these capes as early as 1540. He described different feather mantles
and capes. Different explorers talked about the Cherokees wearing
them as late as the 1700s. They were described as being on a net
base with the brightest colored feathers from flamingos, parrots,
turkeys, geese, ducks the brighter colors were the preferred
So far Rutherford has only used goose and turkey feathers for
her capes but wants to try other feathers such as pheasant. She
places lighter-colored feathers among darker feathers on her capes
to create accents.
Rutherford teamed up with Cherokee National Treasure Tonia Weavel
of Tahlequah to learn how to make capes and mantles. Based on her
research, Rutherford believes a mantle is longer and requires more
feathers while a cape is shorter and mainly covers one's shoulders.
"We (she and Weavel) got together and decided if our ancestors
could figure this out we can make one. So we borrowed a cape a museum
professional had made in Pennsylvania and we studied the thread
pattern. It was really hard. It took us six days to learn how to
weave that. I finally wove one. I was able to make my first feather
cape," Rutherford said.
Along with weaving the netting, finding good feathers is challenging,
Rutherford said. And they can be expensive. A pound of dyed, sanitized
goose feathers costs $80. After culling a pound of feathers, she
said she might throw half of them away because they do not meet
just takes a lot of time. You have to individually bend the quill
on each feather and bend over a wire to make a nice round eye to
sew through, and then you lash them down," she said. "There are
probably 750 to 800 feathers in a (over the shoulder) cape, so it
takes a significant amount of time."
One of her hip-length mantles has approximately 2,200 feathers.
She said the capes and mantles are warm and likely had practical
use for Cherokee people to help keep them warm in cold weather.
In her research she has found only Cherokee men wore the mantles.
For a medium-length black cape on display in her studio she has
won three second-place awards, a first-place award and three best
of division awards at art shows.
Rutherford said she she wants to branch out into painting, but
only after filling her cape orders.
"You have to do what sells when you're a full-time artist even
though you'd like to do something more fun. You have to budget your
time and balance your priorities."
Since learning the craft in 2011, Rutherford has made 10 capes
and has customer orders for five others.
She said Oklahoma Cherokees are not interested in wearing capes
with their traditional clothing because wearing 18th-century style
clothing has not caught as it has with the Eastern Cherokees.
"They've been very popular," Rutherford said. "I've sold several
to Eastern Band contestants for Miss Cherokee. I've sold some for