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Mahota Textiles featured in Smithsonian Magazine

Article exploring American artisans taps Chickasaw weavers


January 26, 2021

Margaret Roach Wheeler

SULPHUR, Okla. -- Writer Glenn Adamson profiled the Chickasaw Nation's company, Mahota Textiles, as part of an article titled "Artisan America: The state of American craft has never been stronger," which can be found in the January/February 2021 issue of the Smithsonian Magazine.

The piece explores today's artisan boom and dives into the history, struggles and successes of craftspeople in North America. Chickasaw weavers Margaret Roach Wheeler and Taloa Underwood shared their words and likenesses within the story.

Underwood said it felt almost too good to seem true when she first found out the Smithsonian was interested in covering Mahota.

"I told Glenn we would be honored to be included in his article. The article is beautifully written, and we couldn't be happier about our profile in it," Underwood said. "The excitement of being in the magazine has not worn off yet for me, and I am very blessed to be a part of a great company and a tribe who supports their citizens' dreams."

The author takes a broad and deep look at American craft, paying special attention to First Americans and African Americans. Adamson turns to successful modern creators like Wheeler to find insight into an ongoing-story centuries old.

"To better understand this great resurgence of craft, I interviewed contemporary makers about their experiences of learning, setting up shop, developing a name for themselves, working with clientele and finally, passing skills on to others," Adamson writes. "I have been fascinated that many stories from the past find continuity with today."

Adamson notes that across the country craftspeople are prevailing and overcoming modern challenges, all while preserving and transforming long-standing traditions. "Wherever you go in the U.S., country or city, north or south, red state or blue, you will find makers, and communities of support gathered around them," he writes.

Mahota Textiles draws inspiration from Southeastern heritage to create elevated and meaningful textiles, designed in Oklahoma and woven in the U.S.A.

The first textile firm solely owned by a First American tribe, Mahota's goods draw on Chickasaw themes.

Though only a few years old at this point, the company reaches back generations, as it is named for Wheeler's great-great-great-grandmother, who experienced forced removal from the Chickasaw Homeland in the 1830s and '40s.

The Chickasaw Nation's entrepreneurial spirit and financial backing were key in the realization of Mahota Textiles, the article explains. So were the three women who have been with it since its inception.

Wheeler founded Mahota Textiles, and together with Underwood and businesswoman Bethany McCord, brought the company from proposal to reality.

Wheeler is introduced in the article as an example of the intertwining of craft and self-determination. She grew up in a house where her mother and grandmother would crochet, knit and embroider, so she picked up on these skills early in life. It was through her own determination that Wheeler went on to study many art forms and come to build a career in working with fibers and design.

"Wheeler's designs reflect a more affirmative aspect of the past, emulating motifs from ancient Mississippian mound-building cultures, as well as more recent traditions of featherwork, beading and quillwork," Adamson writes.

Her tendency to teach weaving to her family helped represent a major point of the article, the importance of passing on skills to others.

In the article, Wheeler remembers a patron asking her 9-year-old granddaughter how long she had been weaving, prompting the reply, "About seven years now."

Photographer Shane Brown captured Wheeler and Underwood's likenesses for the article.

Wheeler is pictured hand weaving red fabric at a loom. Underwood is shown smiling in front of a shelf of Mahota blankets stacked and awaiting shipment in the workspace of Mahota Textiles in Sulphur.

"In the end, it's this combination of ambition, diversity and generosity that most distinguishes the current craft renaissance," Adamson concludes, wondering if craft can bring us together in a time when common ground is hard to find.

These ideas are also deeply explored in Adamson's book "Craft: An American History," which is described as a groundbreaking and surprising history of how artisans created America.

Other modern artisans featured in the article include Virgil Ortiz, Clayton Evans, John Lavine, Stephen Burks, Yohance Joseph Lacour, Matthew Cummings, Chris Schanck, Michihiro Matsuda, Chris DiPinto, Folayemi Wilson and Norman Teague. Historical artisans like David Drake, Elizabeth Keckley and Aileen Osborn Webb are also explored.

McCord said the Smithsonian article was a huge benefit for Mahota, which has big things coming in 2021. Fans and patrons should keep an eye out for new products, like silk scarves and cosmetic bag sets, as well as new lines and designs in collaboration with featured Chickasaw artist Dustin Mater.

About Mahota Textiles

What started as an expert weaver's efforts to reproduce better, more accurate cultural symbols has unfolded into the first textile company envisioned and owned by a North American tribe, the Chickasaw Nation.

Mahota Textiles is an Oklahoma-based weaving company with an emphasis on Southeastern First American designs.

Wheeler explained that "Hota" means "pulls apart the threads" or "to separate by hand." Wheeler also takes it as a legacy mark, an ancestral sign of what would become her life's passion.

The threads of Wheeler's maternal heritage are depicted in Mahota Textiles' company logo. With an aesthetic similar to early hand carved First American glyphs, or perhaps the age rings of a tree, the logo traces five generations of Indigenous women.

"We are makers of art, of story, the threads that connect the inspiration of our ancestors to all of us in a modern world," Wheeler said.

Wheeler's labor of passion is shared with a small team of hardworking women. At Wheeler's side are the flourishing young weaver Underwood and the business-savvy McCord.

They are weaving together generations of tradition with modern processes. In creating artful textiles, Mahota aims to elevate beauty and treasured culture inspired by Southeastern heritage. Their creations tell cultural stories with expressive imagery and soft, warm, woven material.

They work with the finest natural fibers of cotton, wool and linen. No chemicals are ever used in the weaving and finishing of their products. The inherent earthly qualities of these fibers naturally create elegant textiles for everyday use.

Taloa Underwood

You can find Mahota Textiles' products in various museum shops and stores throughout the United States. An online retail store is also available at

Since its October 2018 launch, Mahota Textiles has made waves in the textile and art world. The First American Art Magazine named the founding of Mahota Textiles to its Top 10 Native Art Events of 2018.

Mahota Textiles can be found in Sulphur, Oklahoma's historic downtown, 309 Muskogee Ave. Their showroom and offices are conveniently located near other southeast Oklahoma attractions such as the ARTesian Gallery & Studios, Chickasaw Cultural Center, Chickasaw National Recreation Area, Chickasaw Visitor Center and newly designed Oka' Chokma'si Sculpture Park.

For more information, contact (580) 622-8018 or visit


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