Red Lake Nation News - Babaamaajimowinan (Telling of news in different places)

'Second chance' is charm for Chickasaw artist


This "sprang" manufactured shawl by Chickasaw artist Tyra Shackleford was awarded First Place and Best of Division at the Southwest Association of Indian Art (SWAIA) in August.

SANTA FE, New Mexico – There are some things in life that make you go "hmmmm."

Chickasaw artist Tyra Shackleford's beautiful, elaborately-crafted textiles are a case in point.

Desiring coveted booth space in this year's Southwest Association of Indian Arts (SWAIA), Shackleford spent hours and hours preparing and completing finger-woven and "sprang" designed works. She filled out the paperwork, included photos of her designs, crossed her fingers and hoped for the best.

She did not make the first cut.

"I received a letter that basically said I would be 'waitlisted.' That means I was not chosen to participate in the show and would only be invited if someone dropped out," she recalled with an almost mischievous giggle in her voice.

When someone dropped out, Shackleford was awarded booth space.

And, Shackleford's "sprang" crafted shawl won First Place and Best of Division in textiles.

A brilliantly-colored lightning bolt shawl creation by Shackleford received Honorable Mention.

Shackleford laughs about the turn of events.

"I am fortunate and feel honored to be a part of it (SWAIA). You know, art is so subjective if you think about it. What delights one person will be ignored by another without a second thought. I'm sure art judges are the same way. SWAIA attempts to have a judge who specializes in every art genre. With so many applicants, I am sure the task of deciding who is invited is daunting."


Shackleford learned the "sprang" technique from internationally renowned Chickasaw Margaret Roach Wheeler, whose fashions and loomed textiles have dominated the genre for years.

It is a technique used by the ancestors of both women and by Chickasaw women for centuries.

"Sprang" weaving is difficult to explain. Suffice to say it is an ancient technique almost lost to modern artists. It involves weaving, but also a twisting action of the buffalo hair and fabric giving the finished garment a luxurious look and feel. Any number of garment styles can be created with "sprang," including lace and elegant women's finery.

Tyra Shackleford

"My intention was to create a garment that could be worn on the "red carpet," Shackleford said. The Chickasaw artist believes the "sprang" shawl was a 30-hour effort over many weeks. Shackleford works fulltime for the Chickasaw Nation in its nutrition department. Finding time for weeklong art shows isn't easy. "A lot of what I've dreamed of doing may have to wait until I retire," she said with a laugh.

Until that retirement date 36 years from now, Shackleford has already turned her attention to crafts for the Southeastern Arts Show and Market (SEASAM), a staple of the Annual Chickasaw Meeting and Festival which this year kicks off Sept. 26 and runs through Oct. 1.

The "sprang" shawl won't be displayed, Shackleford remarks with joy.

It sold for a handsome sum at SWAIA.


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