archived image

Cherokee rocket scientist leaves heavenly gift

BY Phoenix Archives
12/18/2008 07:22 AM

By Kara Briggs
NMAI Newservice

WASHINGTON – The Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian recently received notice of a bequest from Cherokee citizen Mary Golda Ross, who died in 2008 three months shy of her 100th birthday.

Ross joined 25,000 Native people who help open the museum in 2004. Now her gift, invested in the museum’s endowment, will help perpetuate the NMAI’s cultural and educational mission for future generations.

“She was a mathematician, and she knew if you gave a large scholarship it would be gone in a year,” her niece Evelyn Ross McMillan said. “But if you gave to endowment the principal would continue to give.”

Though no dollar amount was given, NMAI officials called the gift “generous.”

“She was a strong-willed, independent woman who was ahead of her time,” said Norbert Hill, chairman of the NMAI’s board of trustees.

Ross, whose Cherokee lineage includes former Principal Chief John Ross, was a rocket scientist who spent her 99 years of life looking mostly into the future.

Born in 1908 in the foothills of the Ozarks, she was one year younger than the state of Oklahoma. A gifted child, she was sent to live with her grandparents in the Cherokee Nation capital of Tahlequah to attend school. At 16, she enrolled in Northeastern State Teachers College.

“When I went to the college to enroll, they asked me what I wanted for my major subject. I said, ‘What’s a major subject?’” she said later in life. “The person finally said, ‘What did you have the most fun with when you were in high school?’

She said she answered math, of course and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in 1928. She taught math and science for nine years in nearby high schools. But by 1937, Ross asked herself if she was going to go out and see the world or stay in Oklahoma.

She took a civil service exam and was hired as a statistical clerk at the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs in Washington, D.C. There, a Cherokee woman from the Department of Education noticed her.

“We can’t waste you here,” the official said. “You’re an Indian with a degree and experience in teaching. We need you in the field.”

In 1937, she was sent to Santa Fe, N.M., to work as the girls’ advisor at a school for American Indian artists. The school later became the Institute of American Indian Art. In the summers Ross pursued a master’s degree in mathematics at the University of Northern Colorado.

While there, she took astronomy classes and read every book about the stars. But it was while visiting friends in California when she heard that the Lockheed Corp., short of skilled workers upon the outbreak of World War II, was looking for people with her technical background. She was hired as a mathematician in 1942.

She was assigned to work with the engineering staff on the effects of pressure on the P-38 Lightning fighter plane as it neared the sound barrier and improving the aero elasticity of that first plane so large it had to be treated as a flexible body.

After the war, Lockheed sent her to the University of California at Los Angeles to get a professional certification in engineering. She studied mathematics for modern engineering, aeronautics and missile and celestial mechanics. By 1948, she was on the ground floor of what would become the space race.

In 1952, Lockheed asked Ross to be one of 40 engineers known as the Lockheed Skunk Works, a secret think tank. It was the start of Lockheed Missiles and Space Co., a major consultant to NASA based in Sunnyvale, Calif. Ross was 45, the only woman and the only Native American.

“Often at night there were four of us working until 11 p.m.,” she recalled later. “I was the pencil pusher, doing a lot of research. My state of the art tools were a slide rule and a Frieden computer. We were taking the theoretical and making it real.”

Ross retired from Lockheed at age 65 in 1973, and turned her attention to the next generation of Native Americans and women in engineering. She recruited high school and college students to the field.

A member of the Society of Women Engineers since the 1950s, she also took an interest in American Indian groups such as the American Indian Science and Engineering Society and the Council of Energy Resource Tribes.

“To function efficiently, you need math,” she said later in life. “The world is so technical, if you plan to work in it, a math background will let you go farther and faster.”

One of the regrets Ross mentioned was that she had spent much of her life apart from Indian people. Part of Ross’ longevity, her niece said, stemmed from her belief in “keeping old friends and making new friends.”

Among her newer friends was Tribal Councilor Cara Cowan Watts, who is also an engineer: “Just think, a Cherokee woman from Park Hill (Okla.) helped put an American on the moon.”

Culture

BY WILL CHAVEZ
Senior Reporter
10/20/2014 01:05 PM
CATOOSA, Okla. – Numerous Cherokee women artists participated in the ninth annual Cherokee Art Market held Oct. 11-12 at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Tulsa. Of the 154 CAM participants, 25 were Cherokee women artists. Cherokee artist Janet Smith, who traveled from nearby Wagoner, said her main interest is creating “traditional Cherokee paintings.” “I paint in the old style, the old flat style that I was taught at Bacon (College),” she said. “I’ve been doing some type of art ever since I can remember, but primarily to sell since the early (19)80s.” Along with attending the Cherokee Art Market each year, she said she travels and competes in many art shows each year, including the Santa Fe (New Mexico) Art Market and the annual Cherokee art shows held in Tahlequah. “This is a great market. For one thing, the location is just super, and they take good care of us. I always do well here,” she said. “You have so many artists, not just Cherokee artists, but from all over. This is really a national show. It’s just always so much fun to visit with them and to look at what other artists are doing. I just really enjoy it.” Cherokee artist America Meredith of Santa Fe attended this year’s Cherokee Art Market as a publisher to share her art magazine “First American Art,” which showcases the “Art of Indigenous Peoples of the Americas.” “They let me do a magazine booth, which is really exciting because a lot of the writers are here. Some of our advisors are here, and some of the artists are here like Troy Jackson (Cherokee), who was the cover of our last issue,” Meredith said. “So it’s kind of fun that the people can meet the artists and take this (magazine) home and read about the artists, too.” Meredith said she taught Native American art history, but found writing about art was a better way to reach more people. “There’s really a lot of exciting things happening in Native American art, but we just need that context and understanding, so I feel like I’m serving the public better,” she said. “My own art career is on hiatus. I figure it’s more important for people to understand what’s going on in Native art. So, we try to present all tribes and try to have hemispheric approach – North and South America – because I think we have a lot of cultural connections with South America...because people used to travel a lot in the old days, I think.” She said the magazine, which publishes quarterly, allows artists to explain their work and makes Native artwork accessible. She profiles four artists in each issue from a variety of mediums and areas. When she does create art she paints and has recently began doing smoke art. Her work can be seen at the Spider Gallery in Tahlequah. One of a handful of Cherokee finger weavers, Karen Berry of Garland, Texas entered her finger weaving and gourd art in the market. She won a third place ribbon in the Traditional Weaving division for her “Red Men’s Garters.” “I actually have been trying to do the oblique style of finger weaving, which hasn’t been done lately, and I’ve been trying to help revive it. It is what we did in the 18th century with trade goods from Europe,” she said. “I’ve really been enjoying it and have been perfecting the technique. It’s usually a solid color of yarn with white beads woven into it. It’s time consuming to get the beads on the yarn, but I really enjoy working with it.” She also entered a 3-foot-tall gourd fashioned into the legendary snake-like creature Uktena from Cherokee folklore. The piece is titled “The Guardian” and depicts Uktena twisting up in a coil of water. “It’s a creature that we feared and also revered,” she said. “I kind of thought that would win something, but you just never know.” This was Berry’s fourth year at the art market and the first time she won a ribbon. “I’m excited to win. It’s a hard show to win in and it just feels really rewarding when you do win because there are some really amazing artists here,” Berry said.
BY STAFF REPORTS
10/17/2014 04:00 PM
CATOOSA, Okla. – This year’s ninth annual Cherokee Art Market honored Benjamin Harjo Jr. (Absentee Shawnee/Seminole) with “Best of Show” for his “Ahead of Their Time” painting entry at Hard Rock Hotel & Casino. The awards reception held Oct. 10 honored CAM winners with $75,000 in overall prize money awarded across 25 categories. The event featured art from more than 150 elite Native American artists from 50 tribes. Art forms included Paintings, Drawing, Graphics and Photography; Sculpture; Beadwork/Quillwork; Basketry; Pottery; Textiles; and Jewelry. With nearly 60 winners in eight classes, the following highlights the CAM 2014 “Best of Class” winners: Cherokee Art Market, Best of Show: Benjamin Harjo Jr., “Ahead of Their Time” Class 1: Painting – Benjamin Harjo Jr., “Ahead of Their Time” Class 2: Sculpture – Troy Jackson, “The Gift” Class 3: Beadwork/Quillwork – Jackie Bread, “Owen Heavy Breast” Class 4: Basketry – Shawna Cain, “Grandmother’s Gathering” Class 5: Pottery – Alvina Yepa, “Kiva Prayer Bowl for Rain & Water” Class 6: Textiles – Marie Janette Martin, “Grayhorse Girl - Sunday Best” Class 7: Jewelry – Antonio Grant, “Oldest Game of This Land” Class 8: Diverse Art Forms – Sean Rising Sun Flanagan, “Bug Pow Wow” Additionally, Ken Williams earned the Culture Keeper Award for “Continuation & Evolution” elk hoof bag set, and Richard Casey earned the Innovator Award for “Native Steam Powered Time Machine.” The CAM annually brings together an elite group of Native American artists from across the United States to display and sell their works. For more information and for a complete list of winners and additional details, visit <a href="http://www.CherokeeArtMarket.com" target="_blank">www.CherokeeArtMarket.com</a>.
BY WILL CHAVEZ
Senior Reporter
10/14/2014 08:30 AM
CATOOSA, Okla. – Benjamin Harjo Jr. on Oct. 10 was awarded “Best of Show” at the ninth annual Cherokee Art Market, which Cherokee Nation Cultural Tourism hosted at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Tulsa. Harjo (Absentee Shawnee/Seminole) of Oklahoma City received the award at an Oct. 10 reception. He won for his painting titled “Ahead of Their Time,” which depicts two artists working on a piece of artwork. “Looking at some of the Aztec work where they did repetitious faces and heads, I used the heads at the top and then I show them with their paint brushes putting on the finishing touches,” Harjo said. “Boy, I’m glad I finished that piece now.” He said he had no idea he would win with his painting and said he was “very nervous.” He also thanked the artists who influenced him when he was younger. “I hoping that the younger generation looks at my work as well as the works of the artists,” he said. Harjo has attended eight of the nine Cherokee Art Markets. “It’s got some quality people here. It’s not as large as say, Santa Fe Indian Market, which has 1,200 artists, but what brings a lot of people to this show is the prize money,” he said. CAM Coordinator Deborah Fritts said 154 artists, with a majority of them being Cherokee artists, from throughout the United States brought works to the market. She said citizens from about 50 federally recognized tribes competed and sold their works at the market on Oct. 11-12. Artists competed for $75,000 in prize money in seven classes of art, including Paintings, Drawing, Graphics and Photography; Sculpture; Beadwork/Quillwork; Basketry; Pottery; Textiles; and Jewelry. Fritts said the CAM is held to promote Native American culture, educate, and keep art and traditions alive. One artist who traveled halfway across the country was Antonio Grant of Cherokee, North Carolina. He brought his shell work such as wampum, necklaces and earrings. “These are the traditional shells of this land, of the southeast,” he said. He uses “old designs” from the Mississippian Era. His Mississippian-influenced gorget titled “Oldest Game in the Land” won “Best of Class” in Jewelry. “They (designs) are like 1,500 years old. They did it with traditional tools. I have to use dental tools to do the same effects,” he said. “The technique of shell carving was lost. There are only a handful of us that do this. There’s a Mr. Dan Townsend. He’s the one who pretty much showed me how to do all of this. He showed me, and I took to it really fast.” Grant (Cherokee/Navajo) said this was only his second time to come to the market, but he said he enjoys meeting other artists and seeing their works. “I love meeting the artists here and seeing the work they do,” he said. “Every since I was a little boy I was always intrigued by art. I lived in New Mexico. That’s where my mother is from. She’s from the Navajo reservation. They taught all kinds of things like leatherwork, sand work, weaving. So I was familiar with all of that. Plus, she did some of those things. Plus, her family did...silversmithing. My father, he’s from Cherokee, North Carolina. He did all kinds of stone work, sculpting, bone carving. We did it all.” Cherokee artist Troy Jackson of Tahlequah won “Best of Class” and “Judges Choice” awards for his clay sculpture “The Gift.” “I grew up in a family that is white and Cherokee. I got many gifts from each side,” he said. He said his sculpture symbolizes the Industrial Revolution and how it affected Native Americans. “You’ll see a lot of gears and cogs on my pieces that are symbolic of the Industrial Revolution. We’ve also been given the gift of nature, so that’s why you’ll also see a lot of fish, which symbolizes more of the abundance of natural things,” he said. “The irony is when we developed the Industrial Revolution, we also hurt nature. We destroyed a lot of our nature.” He said the irony is now man uses industry to try to repair damage done to nature. The sculpture is 43 inches tall, 15 inches wide and is 5 inches in depth. Jackson said the top portion of his piece, which is a figure of a man, symbolizes someone giving a gift and his faith in God. “Basically it’s just a representation of Christ and being a gift to us – to Native Americans,” he said. Jackson has attended CAM for eight years and said he enjoys being with other artists and the competition. “I’m competitive in my nature, so I like the competition,” he said. “One of the things I always try to do is to learn from other artists and to see what they’re doing, to see how it pertains to my art and how I can better my work.”
BY STAFF REPORTS
10/10/2014 04:00 PM
CLAREMORE, Okla. – It’s a walk through the woods to the birthplace of Will Rogers, much like it was when Will was born in 1879 in the “White House on the Verdigris.” Claremore artist Pat Crume, a one-time member of the Will Rogers Memorial Commission, has re-created the path leading to the Children’s Museum at the Will Rogers Memorial to give the feeling of a walk through the woods. There are bright redbirds in the trees, a scissortail flycatcher, baby lynx peering from the underbrush near a waterfall rushing down a stone wall. There’s a turtle on a hollow tree trunk, opossums peeking from behind a tree, rabbits ready to run and a squirrel perched to jump from one tree limb to another. Deeper in the woods is deer on the lookout, butterflies fluttering around the blooming wildflowers, owls with wide eyes, a tiny pony, buffalo and longhorn steers. “I incorporated the state animals, tree and wild flower into the painting along with the Church in the Wildwood, creating an Oklahoma history lesson of state icons,” Crume said. A lane leads up to the front door of the house familiar to those who visit the Will Rogers Birthplace Ranch near Oologah. Outside the house there are three girls and a boy playing near the barn. Rogers had three sisters – Sallie, Maud and May. Crume – an artist, designer, entrepreneur and sometimes homebuilder – spent about 200 hours in the basement creating what could have been the road to the ranch when Rogers was born. It was where he lived until after his mother’s death. Then he spent much of his time away at school or with his sisters in Chelsea before quitting school and hitting the road, which eventually led to a successful movie career and life of philanthropy. The Children’s Museum is divided into several areas – a radio broadcast room, performing stage, puppet theatre, library, playroom and schoolroom. “We are going to be making changes to the pods, one at a time and will be announcing some of the renovations soon, said Tad Jones, museum director. “We will try to keep the Children’s Museum open most of the time, except for the pod that is being changed.” Jennifer Holt, museum curator, said there are no firm plans but she expects the Carnegie Library area to be a Wild West Show play area. The Jones brothers – sons of Jones and his wife, Sammi – have given up some of their toys to share with museum visitors. The Children’s Museum has long been a favorite destination for them and their cousins. This is just the first of a complete renovation of the area, to be completed with the least amount of interruption for children’s visits. Changes are expected during the winter months during slow visitor times, museum officials said.
BY WILL CHAVEZ
Senior Reporter
10/06/2014 01:13 PM
PARK HILL, Okla. – A $6,000 donation from the Grand River Dam Authority and the Tahlequah Public Works Authority has allowed the Cherokee Heritage Center to fulfill its dream of building the “Echota House” on the center’s grounds. The 20-foot-by-30-foot house is modeled after an outdoor structure that once stood at Red Clay, Tennessee, where Cherokee leaders met to discuss tribal issues just before the forced removal of the tribe to Indian Territory in 1838. Red Clay was the last seat of government for the CN after Georgia prohibited Cherokee leaders from meeting at its previous seat of government in New Echota, Georgia. Laura Townsend, GRDA marketing manager, said she is glad the GRDA is part of “such an important project.” “The Grand River Damn Authority along with the Tahlequah Public Works Authority is so glad to be a part of this project. We are happy to give sponsorship funding in the amount of $6,000 to help build the ‘Echota House,’” she said. CHC Executive Director Center Candessa Tehee said the “generous gift” of $6,000 funded the building of the “Echota House,” but it also allowed the CHC to outfit the building with electricity. She added that the “Echota House” would be used as an outdoor entertainment structure. It sits in area that used to serve as the CHC’s Ancient Village. In June 2013, the Diligwa Village replaced the Ancient Village, which opened in 1967. “It’s an outdoor structure that’s patterned after the council house at Red Clay, Tennessee. The council house was an important, historic structure. It (Red Clay) was the last seat of Cherokee government in the east, and it was the last place for a unified Cherokee government,” Tehee said. “The TPWA and the GRDA, by giving us these funds, it helps to acknowledge a long standing relationship that we have had with the local power authority here, and we are very appreciative for them helping us to achieve the dream of the ‘Echota House’ here at the CHC.” The CHC, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, is the premier cultural center for Cherokee tribal history, culture and the arts. It was established in 1963 by the Cherokee National Historical Society to preserve and promote the Cherokee culture. The center is also home to the Cherokee National Archives, which is the CN’s foremost collection of historic tribal related documents and artifacts from the 1700s through present day. The CHC is situated on the grounds of the original Cherokee Female Seminary, which is one of the first institutions of higher learning for women west of the Mississippi and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. For more information, call 918-456-6007 or 1-888-999-6007 or email <a href="mailto: info@cherokeeheritage.org">info@cherokeeheritage.org</a> or visit <a href="http://www.CherokeeHeritage.org" target="_blank">www.CherokeeHeritage.org</a>.
BY STAFF REPORTS
10/06/2014 10:12 AM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – The next meeting of the Tahlequah Writers group is set for 2 p.m. on Oct. 18 at the Cherokee Arts Center at 212 S. Water St. Children’s book author Barbara Louise Clouse of Muskogee will speak. The presentation is open to the public. “Eyes of the King” was Clouse’s first novel, published in 2005, and her second book “The Healing Lodge” was published in 2011. The latter is available through the usual book vending web sites as well as local shops. Clouse retired from the U.S. Department of Justice office in Muskogee where she worked in trial preparation and document research. Tahlequah Writers is an informal group comprised of published writers and aspiring writers of various genres. Attendees include poets, fiction writers, historians, essayists, humorists, playwrights and scriptwriters. Meetings discuss the art of writing as well as the business of publishing and promotion. For more information, call Karen Cooper at 918-207-0093 or email <a href="mailto: karcoocoo@att.net">karcoocoo@att.net</a>.