Mater's award-winning sculpture
"The Unextinguished Fire."
SANTA FE, N.M. Chickasaw artist Dustin Mater feels as
if his eclectic art creations are finding greater acceptance and
he is on the cusp of an artistic breakthrough.
Mr. Mater's sculpture "The Unextinguished Fire" won First Place
in the Sculpture Division at the Southwest Association of Indian
Arts (SWAIA) Indian Market, one of the most prestigious Native American
art shows in the nation. Artists from across the country vie to
be juried into the competition each August.
"This piece actually finished third at the Artesian Arts Festival
last May," Mr. Mater said. "I think folks were not accustomed to
anything like my peculiar take on Southeast art."
He chose to title the work after his Chickasaw ancestors from
"It represents the Chickasaws for never giving up and never
giving in; that fire still burns," he said. "When (judges) laid
that first place ribbon next to (it), I was just gobsmacked. I kept
thinking 'Wow, I won!'"
Mr. Mater said artists in his division had brought their very
"They had such a diverse range of incredible work," he said.
"To some degree, it was a little intimidating. More and more people
are beginning to gravitate to some of my ideas and many of my creations.
It just makes me believe I'm on the right path."
The first place sculpture relies on several different materials,
a Dustin Mater trademark.
He describes it as a multiple piece sculpture with a gourd base.
"The outer flames are acid-etched copper with traditional southeastern
tribal patterns," he said. "The center piece is a lightning whelk
which I carved to make it look like the center of a flame. I tried
to use materials that would have been used in antiquity."
MAKING HIS MARK
The artist has been on the Native American art scene for several
years now, most notably for his conch shell engravings and gorget
His artwork is on display at the Smithsonian Institution's Museum
of the American Indian. His work has also been displayed and sold
at Orenda Art International in Paris and Indigenous Brilliance in
Edinburgh, Scotland, and accepted nationally from several venues.
"I still love superheroes, robots and monsters," he said.
It was a real-life Chickasaw "superhero" that inspired one of
his greatest works of art. That action figure is of astronaut John
Herrington, the first member of a Native American tribe to blast
off from Earth and walk in the abyss of space.
His gorget shell carving of an ancient Chickasaw man wearing
a modern-day space helmet, his arms bearing the feathers of a falcon,
was purchased by the Smithsonian. It is a part of the permanent
Smithsonian collection and is on display.
The work is titled "John Herrington: 21st Century Bird Man."
Several gorgets have been prominently displayed and sold
in European markets. His creations continue to delight festival-goers
across the country.
His Pendleton blanket design "Spring" was a huge success.
Pendleton Legendary Collection
"Spring" Blanket, 03.24.2012
From Pendleton Woolen Mills
64" X 80"
Mr. Mater admired the company and its dedication to quality.
But the Chickasaw artist saw immediately Pendleton was ignoring
Southeastern tribes' ancient designs and symbols.
He contacted them.
He pitched his "Spring" design featuring symbols of a Southeastern
tribe specifically Chickasaw but symbols accepted by other
members of the Five Civilized Tribes. Pendleton loved it.
The blanket includes the Creator's ever-watchful eye. The revered
woodpecker brings good luck and protection. And, typical of
Mater, he colored outside the lines. Life-giving rain drops pepper
the work of art.
Mater believes the blanket's design, signifying rebirth and
fresh beginnings, is especially appropriate as Mississippian-inspired
art is enjoying a Renaissance.