Babaamaajimowinan (Telling of news in different places)

Renowned Chickasaw Nation artist and historian Jeannie Barbour has been named Illustrator of 2013

Renowned Chickasaw Nation artist and historian Jeannie Barbour has been named Illustrator of 2013 by the Oklahoma Chapter of the International Society for Key Women Educators.

Delta Kappa Gamma cited her art work in Chikasha Stories, Volume One: Shared Spirit.

The state chapter selected her work as the very best based upon the expression of “creativity that encourages, inspires and reaches children,” the chapter said in announcing the award. “We are pleased to honor your work. As one judge states, ‘the illustrations delightfully add to the tales. The expressions on the animals’ faces are exquisite.’”

Chickasaw Nation Governor Bill Anoatubby said that Ms. Barbour is very deserving of the honor.

“Jeannie has an incredible talent for bringing Chickasaw heritage and culture to life through her artwork,” said Gov. Anoatubby. “These illustrations bring an added dimension to this book as Jeannie’s creativity and vivid imagination brighten the page with images inspired by the words of our elders. These stories and images are as appealing and enlightening to adults as they are to children.

“Our congratulations go out to Jeannie, Glenda and everyone involved in this project.”

Ms. Barbour sits at a desk surrounded by history books, storybooks, and a few pieces of art. She gently opens the book cited by the society and talks about the illustrations she contributed. She is pleased and proud of the honor.

Just a few days ago, she finished illustrating the third and final installment of the Chikasha book series compiled by Chickasaw storyteller and tribal elder Glenda Galvan. The stories are printed in English and Chickasaw.

For three years, she’s been at it. Working from home and after hours to complete the project, Ms. Barbour smiles slyly and wonders out loud if she ever met a Chickasaw Press deadline. She thinks perhaps she did, but isn’t really sure. “The Chickasaw Press people have been very patient with me,” she added.

The second book in the series is called Chikasha Stories: Shared Voices.

Illustrations for the third installment, Chikasha Stories: Shared Wisdom, have just recently been delivered to the printer.

So … now what?

“I have some ideas I’d like to pursue and of course they all have to do with Chickasaw history and culture because that is my passion,” Ms. Barbour said. “There is a thing called a starving artist and I would be one if I didn’t have this job. So I feel very fortunate to be doing what it is I love to do and then have the art in my spare time to express that in another way,” she said.

Galvan specifically requested Ms. Barbour illustrate the three-book series. The books met with enthusiasm by tribal elders despite the tribe’s history of passing them down orally for hundreds of years. Galvan had agreed to write down her stories. “Normally, oral tradition – particularly for traditionalists like Glenda – requires that (stories) be spoken orally. You don’t ever write them down. Most tribes sort of hold to that rule,” Ms. Barbour said.

“There has been a problem with the loss of these old stories because most of them are held by elders and when you lose an elder, you lose a lot, especially if they are language speakers. There was a concern we were losing too many of these stories. So it was decided maybe we should write them down. Glenda had talked with the elders to see if this would be appropriate or not and they said ‘yes, we think it’s important they be written down.’ So, she shared some of the stories she got from elders and also some of her own family stories.”

In the first book -- the one for which Ms. Barbour was honored -- all of the stories are about animals and are quite old.

“You have animals that are new to the world and are trying to understand it. They are faced with a lot of dilemmas they’ve never faced before and I thought ‘well, it must have been very confusing for these very naïve, very innocent animals.’ So, I developed a look about them that suggested they didn’t have a clue about what was going on,” Ms. Barbour recalled.

“It was all brand new to them and this seemed to be what attracted the folks at DKG to the artwork I was doing. I was using a very whimsical approach to the animals and they seemed very young and trying to learn their way in the world, which is what children do,” she added.

“It is wonderful to be recognized for the work you do and for people to get it. When (DKG) mentioned the expressions on the faces of the little characters and their whimsical nature, that’s exactly what I had hoped the little characters would convey. They (DKG) understood that. In the second volume when humans come into the picture, I decided to draw them the same way. I think we’re all sort of going through the world hoping for the best and doing the best we can.

“I think that’s what these stories are all about. They are teaching tools. I think the stories are more than just teaching tools for children, they are also teaching tools for adults: How do you live your life? What is your place in the universe? I believe the stories are just as meaningful today as what they were 200, 300, or 500 years ago. They are very old and they’ve been passed down from generation to generation all this time with a purpose,” Ms. Barbour observed.

She used colored pencils for the art. The medium is not only Ms. Barbour’s favorite, but it was used for a reason.

“Colored pencils allow the artist to have clear, defined edges and precision,” she explained. And, while the art in the book is crisp and precise, it also comes with a “down” side. Coloring in pencil can require up to 30 layers of colored panels for each drawing. Ms. Barbour said she considered burnishing the artwork – a technique were colors are rubbed, smeared, lightened and darkened with various tools from an eraser to the artist’s own fingers – but she said with deadlines always nipping at her heels, she decided to layer the coloring.

An element to the books sure to thrill Chickasaws is inclusion of pre-removal Mississippian-era drawings of pottery and ceremonial rattles and centuries-old Chickasaw symbols. Twenty-five years of researching the tribe’s history and culture familiarized Ms. Barbour with them. She included them in her artwork, including a very detailed pottery piece with the Chickasaw wind symbol that – today – graces many aspects of all things Chickasaw -- from the Chickasaw Cultural Center to welcome centers and even gaming facilities.

Still, another element central to the first book is water.

“Water is essential for life. Water is a big part of the Chickasaw culture. We lived on the Mississippi and I just felt like water should be predominant,” Ms. Barbour said.

Ms. Barbour did not edit herself or restrict her drawings, but challenges did present themselves. For the first time in her artistic career, her concept for a piece of art in the final book required her to use black illustration board for a nighttime scene.

She had never illustrated on one before.

“It was like ‘what if I get 80 hours into this thing and it’s not working out.’ I was already behind deadline,” she recalled with a mixture of smiles and residual nervousness. “That was pretty scary.”

 

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