Margaret Roach Wheeler rediscovers creative freedom amid the natural splendors of Sulphur
Renowned Chickasaw weaver prepares showing for Artesian Online Art Market
June 2, 2021
For Chickasaw weaver and fashion designer Margaret Roach Wheeler, recent months have been a time to slow down, reflect, appreciate her surroundings, roll out a new loom and plan a path ahead. One of the first stops on that journey will be the 2021 Artesian Online Art Market (AOAM).
After a decade of working as a contracted artist, she is now her own woman on her own land working with her own two hands on her own time. No more commissions, open and free, just doing the work she wants to do.
Luckily, for fans of Wheeler's unique textile creations, she has centered the work she wants to do on her lifelong love of weaving. Retirement has reignited her passion for her own art.
"I only did one or two pieces in about 10 years which were for me alone," Wheeler said, recalling with appreciation the time she spent mentoring, teaching and promoting other artists. "In some ways, it's exciting. I am now developing ideas of what I want to do with the rest of my life as far as weaving. That has really been a good feeling, to get back to weaving."
The loom is fresh again, she said. As an artist, she enjoys inventing designs, coming up with new weave structures, even sometimes going back to old methods and updating them.
"After I made the decision to retire, I bought a small loom which will fit into my cottage where I have my studio. It has been fun to sit back down and think about where I want to go from here," Wheeler said.
Fans should keep an eye open for the new, one-of-a-kind textiles Wheeler is weaving together right now with plans to show during this year's AOAM. Wheeler is also including four pieces that give a glimpse of where she has been.
Like "The Murder of One," Wheeler's multimedia depiction of a crow. She handcrafted this piece from silk wool out of the ARTesian Gallery & Studios, where Wheeler spent years mentoring new weavers. It includes a headdress, blanket robe and sculpted cloth visage.
"There is a thin red line coming from his heart down to the red below. Arthur Conan Doyle wrote of a thin red line of murder," Wheeler explained.
Doyle's quote: "There's the scarlet thread of murder running through the colourless skein of life, and our duty is to unravel it, and isolate it, and expose every inch of it."
"I read that while I had the loom threaded to make this piece. I added the red line, which is placed over the heart. As it runs down it creates a red blood base of the robe. It represents how the murder of one can lead to the annihilation of a Native tribe. The crow is a spirit who has observed the crimes," she said.
Then there is Wheeler's "White Buffalo Jacket," which has a winding cross-country history involving museums, First American art markets, private collections, second hand art shops and ultimately a return to Wheeler's hands.
It is a piece as worthy of wearing out as it is displaying in a protected case.
In a step away from the wearable textile expressions, Wheeler is showing two woven mask assemblages with out-of-this-world inspiration.
"You've heard of 'Flash Gordon?' I loved to watch it, but we didn't have a television growing up so we would go to a neighbor's house," Wheeler remembered.
"In one of the episodes there were these mud men in a cave who just emerged from the mud, their faces coming out and then their bodies. I never forgot it," Wheeler said. "I knew at that time I wanted to be an artist. Later, as an adult, when I started shaping these faces, that's what it reminded me of, those mud men."
Only, instead of mud, pieces like "War Stripe" give the appearance of cloth faces appearing from behind the wall.
As part of her self-defined path forward, Wheeler hopes to give new life to her online presence as an artist, making direct connections to fans over the internet.
She follows artists like Dustin Mater and Brent Greenwood on social media, watching as they give real time updates on their works. It is something she enjoys as fans of theirs. She aspires to be as successful at it, though she jokes about her tech abilities.
With a refashioned website at MargaretRoachWheeler.com and representation at online art markets such as AOAM, Wheeler has her best foot forward.
"The Artesian Festival has been good. It should be an interesting year. I look forward to seeing what this year brings in my work. It's a new chapter," Wheeler explained. "It's good. That is all I keep saying. It is a good life. I just want to be able to keep going as long as I can. The more you do, the more you can do. You do not want to become stagnant. You've got to keep going."
Wheeler served as the artist in residence at the Smithsonian's National Museum of the American Indian in New York. She exhibited works at the Museum of Arts and Design and the Institute of American Indian Arts, among others. She won numerous awards including the President's Award at the Red Earth Festival and textile awards at the 2009 Southeastern Art Show and Market. Some of her other awards and honors include the Oklahoma Governor's Award for the Arts and serving as Creative Arts Ambassador for the state of Oklahoma. She is the owner of Mahota Handwovens, where she designs contemporary fashions and traditional First American regalia.
She was the 2020 Chickasaw Nation Dynamic Woman of the Year and was inducted into the Chickasaw Hall of Fame in 2010.
About the Artesian Online Art Market
Open to the public for viewing and purchasing art, the Artesian Online Art Market (AOAM) will be available through Aug. 2 at ArtesianArtsFestival.com. The online market presents an opportunity for the public to enjoy original works of fine art created by talented First American artists.
This year's online market will be a first-class showcase for First American art, as well as a virtual destination for both art collectors and enjoyers.
Categories include drawing, graphic arts, mixed media, painting, photography, jewelry, sculpture, textiles, 3-D diverse, beadwork/quillwork, pottery, traditional dress & regalia, weaponry and cultural diverse.
Art lovers and buyers are able to maintain responsible distancing while browsing Chickasaw and other First American award winning artwork. Artists have the opportunity to display up to five pieces of art that are available for purchase. Artists and buyers connect directly to coordinate all transactions.
Last year's AOAM caught the attention of viewers and buyers from around the world, with nearly 7,000 viewers from 82 countries.