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Jeweler tells Chickasaw stories with metal and stone at Artesian Arts Festival

SULPHUR, Okla. -- Chickasaw jeweler Kristen Dorsey--known nationally for her stylish adornments crafted with traditional Chickasaw materials and techniques--will share pieces from several of her collections Memorial Day weekend at the Artesian Arts Festival (AAF) May 26.

The California-based creator will be available throughout the festival to discuss her work, which draws from her Chickasaw heritage, life experiences, and personal style.

Her art encompasses rings, necklaces, bracelets, pendants, earrings and gorgets.

Often, Dorsey enjoys crafting jewelry in line with themed collections which tell Chickasaw stories and reflect her personal story. "Hatchet Women," "Of Earth and Place," "Panther Woman" and "Shokmalli'" are among her expressive collections.

Hatchet Women

She unveiled the collection "Hatchet Women" during last year's AAF and will share more pieces this year. It features argentium silver accented with natural gemstones such as labradorite and tourmaline.

Dorsey looks to her own heritage and sees examples of powerful women. The "Hatchet Women" collection is a shining representation of them.

"I have always been drawn to stories of heroines, women throughout history who display an unrelenting resilience and perseverance," Dorsey explained.

Dorsey said Chickasaw women have always protected and defended their lands from invaders. She pointed to the reputation the Chickasaws garnered in the 1700s with the French, who saw them as formidable adversaries whose villages were nearly impossible to attack.

"This was due in part to iron hatchet-wielding Chickasaw women," Dorsey said. "The French were surprised to see women could become warriors and that women were as essential to war as they were to peace."

She said today's Chickasaw women wield knowledge instead of hatchets, but are no less fierce than their mothers and grandmothers, and will pass this gift of strength to their daughters and granddaughters.

Panther Woman

Echoing the focus on strong women apparent in the "Hatchet Women" collection, Dorsey dedicated her "Panther Woman" collection to the ongoing tradition of female leadership and strength in the Chickasaw Nation.

According to oral tradition, the Panther Woman is a heroine whose leadership defended her village. She was a communicator, strategist and woman warrior.

Pieces in this collection are inspired by ancient shell carvings of the panther, which is a top predator in the Chickasaw homelands scattered across the forests, mountains and prairies that later became parts of southwestern Kentucky, western Tennessee, northern Mississippi and northwestern Alabama.

Jewelry associated with this collection include detailed panthers and shield shapes accented with twinkling diamonds to represent the night sky alongside iridescent moonstone and labradorite symbolizing the magic and mystery of the panther's lair.

Dorsey views her "Panther Woman" collection as a type of jeweled armor fit for today's female warriors and honoring the warriors of the past.

It's a legacy she personally carries forward with her efforts in protecting the environment and defending water rights.

"Defending our lands remains critical to this day. We need clean water, clean air, a healthy ecosystem, fish in the ocean, bees to pollinate. Our survival is dependent on nature, what is around us," Dorsey said.

Of Earth and Place

"My art is all about my Chickasaw heritage and my deep love of the natural world," Dorsey explained.

The collection, "Of Earth and Place," honors the plants cultivated by her ancestors to provide nourishment and medicine. It features materials enjoyed by Chickasaws for hundreds of years.

"Our Chickasaw ancestors loved pearls, shell and copper for their adornments," Dorsay said. "Today, I also incorporate contemporary materials to reference the older adornments such as rose gold to symbolize our ancient copper working traditions."

She researched the plant life found in the Chickasaw homeland, believing now is a time for returning to those lands, understanding those lands and how it played a prominent role in the culture and daily lives of Chickasaws.

She said reconnecting with the land and traditional knowledge is a healing process for her. If she isn't travelling east to reconnect, she's taking in the ever-changing beaches of the Pacific Ocean, which she explored as a youth.

"It's about being present in the place you are, observing the land and objects around you, being inspired by it. The mindset where you can see clearly, be present and be creative," she said.

Artesian Arts Festival

With the Artesian Arts Festival on the horizon, Dorsey looks forward to visiting what she calls her second home of Oklahoma. If she had a favorite room in her second home, it would be the festival's hosting town, Sulphur.

The festival will be open to the public at no charge 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. at the Artesian Plaza in Sulphur, located adjacent to the Artesian Hotel and Spa, 1001 W. First Street.

Musical entertainment, tribal dance demonstrations and food vendors are also planned, as well as a special area for children's activities and a senior citizens' arts and crafts booth.

For more information about the Artesian Arts Festival, contact the Chickasaw Nation Division of Arts & Humanities at 580-272-5520, or by email at

Dorsey maintains an online presence to showcase her collections and tell her stories at She keeps an insightful blog on the website where she makes announcements, gives behind-the-scenes glimpses into her current creations and writes historical art essays. Video features covering Dorsey can be found at


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