Cherokee Nation citizen Frances Donelson sews a Choctaw tear dress in her home near Fort Gibson, Okla. In 1993 she started making tear dresses and ribbon shirts when her sister was a vendor at the Cherokee National Holiday. TESINA JACKSON/CHEROKEE PHOENIX

Donelson keeping traditional Cherokee fashion alive

Cherokee Nation citizen Frances Donelson holds an adult Cherokee tear dresses she made. Since 2002, she has won 12 awards for her sewing at events for her tear dresses and ribbon shirts. TESINA JACKSON/CHEROKEE PHOENIX  Cherokee Nation citizen Frances Donelson holds an adult Cherokee tear dresses she made. Since 2002, she has won 12 awards for her sewing at events for her tear dresses and ribbon shirts. TESINA JACKSON/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
Cherokee Nation citizen Frances Donelson holds an adult Cherokee tear dresses she made. Since 2002, she has won 12 awards for her sewing at events for her tear dresses and ribbon shirts. TESINA JACKSON/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
BY TESINA JACKSON
Reporter
01/13/2012 08:36 AM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – The Cherokee people love their traditional games, foods, stories and clothes. In 1993, Cherokee Nation citizen Frances Donelson decided to use her sewing skills to keep the tradition of tear dresses and ribbon shirts alive.

“It’s just something that I’ve done for years,” she said.

The tear dress is the traditional dress for Cherokee women. The ribbon shirt, which has ribbons on the front and back, is popular for Cherokee men.

According to CN website, the dress is believed to be the style of dress from the Trail of Tears era, when most women had no access to scissors because of the removal and confiscation of belongings. So the material was torn from larger pieces. The traditional dress has diamonds around the skirt and sleeves. Today, some dresses have been modified to utilize triangles, circles and even the seven-pointed star of the Cherokee.

The Trail of Tears-era dress had quarter length sleeves and a mid-calf skirt length. Women’s dresses had button-down tops, while the buttons were usually fastened in the back for infants. Today, the dress has been modified to be floor length with full-length sleeves.

Donelson said she began sewing when she was young. But it wasn’t until 1993, when her sister was a Cherokee National Holiday vendor, that Donelson made tear dresses and ribbon shirts.

“She was doing jewelry and she said ‘you can make a couple of skirts and we’ll see about selling them,’” Donelson said. “So it just kind of evolved from there. I started working on the tear dresses. I’ve found by observation, looking at some, and I finally decided that I could make one of those and the first time I did I had only five. After I sold all five of them, I started making more.”

She quickly learned that it’s better to add elastic to the waist and wristbands to fit more people.

“I started making them a little bit more flexible because a lot of it is custom made and when you don’t know who you are going to make it for you have to make it a little bit larger or try different ways of making it flexible instead of having a fitted waist,” she said.

Donelson also makes Muscogee Creek and Choctaw tear dresses and ribbon shirts.

“I figured out I can do a Cherokee tear dress; it takes me approximately 20 hours,” she said. “The Choctaw dress involves a lot of handwork and I figured out that I sit for 80 hours doing one dress.”

Donelson has made dresses for people living in California, Texas, Hawaii, Washington and New Jersey. She has even made one for someone in Germany.

“People say ‘do you have a website?’ No I don’t have a website and I’m not on Facebook, I don’t do any of that,” she said. “All the orders I get are just word-of-mouth.”

She even made Principal Chief Bill John Baker’s ribbon shirt that he wore at his Nov. 6 inauguration as well as several dresses for his family.

“For the last three years, Frances has made a tear dress for our granddaughter. She’s made her one for every (Cherokee National) holiday,” said first lady Sherry Baker. “She just does a beautiful job and she always makes it to fit and she just goes out of her way to take care of it.”

Donelson charges $60 for an adult ribbon shirt, $45 if material is provided; $75 for a Cherokee tear dress for ages 3 to 7, $50 if material is provided; $100 for a Cherokee tear dress for ages 8 to 12, $75 if material is provided; and $150 for an adult Cherokee tear dress, $100 if material is provided.

She said she doesn’t rely on her hobby for a living and tries to keep her costs low.

“…it’s something that I enjoy doing, so I try to keep it down as much as possible, but you always feel like you need something for the cost of the material and the amount of time you put into it,” she said. “Someone asked me once if I wasn’t doing this then what would I be doing. I’d probably be sitting and just watching TV and not doing much of anything. It keeps me busy and I enjoy doing it and as long as people seem to like the dresses I’ll continue making them.”

tesina-jackson@cherokee.org
918-453-5000, ext. 6139

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BY JAMI MURPHY
Senior Reporter – @cp_jmurphy
07/21/2016 09:00 AM
MUSKOGEE, Okla. – Cherokee Nation citizen MaryBeth Timothy, of MoonHawk Art, recently donated four ceramic tiles to the Cherokee Phoenix for its third quarterly giveaway. The four tiles are 6 inches by 8 inches featuring a bear, eagle, wolf and horses. Timothy, who has created art most of her life, said she didn’t become a professional artist until age 30. “I’ve been drawing for as long as I can remember. I can remember going back in my parent’s desk and finding pictures that I’d drawn when I was really little. I remember in kindergarten winning first place for a Halloween drawing that I’d done,” she said. “I started professionally I guess when I was around 30. And started painting about that time as well.” Timothy said she and her family had always taken an interest in the arts. “My mother’s pretty creative. She’s always done crafty things with us since we were little, and we’re all very musically inclined as well. I’ve just always been drawn to it, that and nature,” she said. Although she didn’t grow up in the Cherokee culture, she said it’s always been something she wanted to learn more about. As an adult, she said art helped her do that. “I didn’t grow up traditional or around our people until I was an adult, and I had that yearning to learn about our history and culture, our heritage, and I think in learning that it has also inspired that part of my art as well,” Timothy said. She said meeting influential people helped to further her artistic career. “Betty Cramer-Synar and her daughter Addie Synar. They really were my kick to continue and to increase my knowledge on it and to venture out into other mediums as well,” she said. Timothy said she’s experienced several art media, including drawing with graphite, pencil, pen and ink and acrylics. She has also worked with watercolor pencils, colored pencil, oil and she sculpts. More recently, she and her husband applied for a loan through the CN to print on ceramic tiles, coffee mugs and T-shirts. “We do all of the original art, and then we do our own printing as well,” she said. “We are Moonhawk Art LLC now. So we just became an LLC a few months ago.” Timothy and her husband’s artwork is for sale online and at craft shows and powwows, but they also take commission jobs. They also continue to work regular jobs, she said. MaryBeth works for the Five Civilized Tribes Museum and John for Bacone College, both in Muskogee. Entries for the Cherokee Phoenix quarterly giveaways are obtained by people donating to the Cherokee Phoenix elder fund or buying a subscription or merchandise. One entry is given for every $10 spent. The third drawing will be on Oct. 1. The tile featuring a bear is titled “Bear Clan.” “Ancient Glory” is the tile with the eagle. “PeekaBoo” is the one with a wolf, and “Seven” or “GaLiQuoGi” is the tile with horses. For more information regarding the giveaways call Samantha Cochran at 918-207-3825 or Justin Smith at 918-207-4975 or email <a href="mailto: samantha-cochran@cherokee.org">samantha-cochran@cherokee.org</a> or <a href="mailto: justin-smith@cherokee.org">justin-smith@cherokee.org</a>. For more information on MoonHawk Art visit <a href="http://www.moonhawkart.com" target="_blank">www.moonhawkart.com</a> or email <a href="mailto: moonhawkart@gmail.com">moonhawkart@gmail.com</a>.
BY STAFF REPORTS
07/19/2016 03:00 PM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – Throughout history, Cherokees have always placed a priority on their relationship with the Earth and emphasized the importance of being good stewards of the land. A new exhibit at the Cherokee National Prison Museum showcases that relationship while featuring Cherokee agricultural practices from pre-removal to present day. “Of the Earth” runs July 15 through Nov. 1. Free admission will be offered on opening day. The exhibit features information on crops, including corn, squash and beans. These crops are also known as the Three Sisters, which are historically the most important throughout Cherokee history. Other crops include pumpkins, apples, grapes, peaches and wild onions. The Cherokee National Prison Museum was selected to host the exhibit, as it once featured a large garden where prisoners tended to its care. This was an important aspect of the prison, as it was used for prisoner reform and teaching life skills, as opposed to punishment. The prison was the only penitentiary building in Indian Territory from 1875 to 1901. It housed sentenced and accused prisoners from throughout the territory. The interpretive site and museum give visitors an idea about how law and order operated in Indian Territory. The site features a working blacksmith area and reconstructed gallows, exhibits about famous prisoners and daring escapes, local outlaws and Cherokee patriots, jail cells and more. It is located at 124 E. Choctaw St. Cherokee Nation museums are open from10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Tuesday through Saturday. For information, call 1-877779-6977 or visit <a href="http://www.VisitCherokeeNation.com" target="_blank">www.VisitCherokeeNation.com</a>.
BY WILL CHAVEZ
Senior Reporter – @cp_wchavez
07/18/2016 09:15 AM
PARK HILL, Okla. – Seven women came to the Cherokee Heritage Center on July 9 to transform flat reed material into baskets under the instruction of artist and former Miss Cherokee Danielle Culp. CHC Education Director Tonia Weavel said the center hosts seven to eight art classes annually to promote Cherokee culture. “The idea is for students to have a taste of Cherokee culture and experience basket making, pottery making, stickball making, Cherokee clothing. We do a variety of things,” she said. “Today, the flat reed class is learning to weave like our ancestors did. The material used in flat reed weaving for today’s class is commercial reed, but our ancestors would have used river cane or split hardwoods. Our goal for today is (for students) to leave here with a small, finished basket so the students understand the process of beginning and finishing.” CHC cultural art classes usually only have 12 to 15 students to allow for one-on-one attention by the instructor and so that students have a good experience with the instructor, Weavel added. She said some students leave the classroom and continue to learn about the crafts. “The students are encouraged to continue the craft if they choose to do so,” she said. “We have had a student that has come to a class and ended up entering our Homecoming Art Show, which is a show just for Cherokee people.” Cherokee Nation citizen Valerie Brown, of Bixby, said she has taken the reed basket class three times because she enjoys learning more about her Cherokee heritage. “I wasn’t raised around Cherokee culture, but it was important to my mom. So after I lost her I thought ‘now’s the time to start learning more about where I’m from,’” she said. Brown said she’s a little slow in making baskets, but she enjoys working on them. She said after three classes she now has a feel for how the basket should be made and it’s easier for her to follow the instructor. “Whether I have any talent for it or not, I like doing it,” Brown said. “That’s why I’ve taken the round reed class so many times. Each time it’s a beginner’s class. Each time I learn more. Where I work they have an art contest for just the employees, and I’ve entered that and won a prize.” She said she has basket-making materials in her living room and makes small baskets in her spare time. “It’s relaxing. It’s just the feeling of working with my hands and creating something. I’ve always done crafts and things, and to me this is just an elevated level. It’s not just a craft. It just feels like more,” she said. Weavel said the classes also serve as a preservation tool because some students continue practicing what they learn and share with others. For more information, call 918-456-6007, email <a href="mailto: tonia-weavel@cherokee.org">tonia-weavel@cherokee.org</a> or visit <a href="http://www.cherokeeheritage.org" target="_blank">www.cherokeeheritage.org</a>.
BY STAFF REPORTS
07/14/2016 04:00 PM
BRATTONSVILLE, S.C. – The movie “Cameron” follows British Indian agent Alexander Cameron (David Reed) on the run from militiamen hell-bent on his capture. Rumors throughout the Carolina backcountry claim Cameron is inciting Cherokee warriors to attack frontier settlers as a way of restoring British rule. Cameron had sent letters warning settlers of impending Cherokee attacks, but the letters backfire. Torn between his responsibility as a father, honor to his king, loyalty to the Cherokees and duty to his conscience, Cameron sinks deeper into turmoil, as he realizes his noble attempts to save innocent women and children have become his undoing. “The idea for Cameron emerged after my study of 18th-century letters written by Alexander Cameron, Indian agent among the Cherokee. In my eight years of research and writing ‘A Demand of Blood,’ Cameron and his Cherokee ally Dragging Canoe evolved as central characters in the epic narrative of the Cherokee war of 1776, and it is this war within a war that is the backdrop for ‘Cameron,’ an untold story of the American Revolution,” said Nadia Dean, the movie’s writer, producer and director. Dean is the author of “A Demand of Blood: The Cherokee War of 1776” and a veteran broadcast and print journalist. In 2014, she wrote and produced the short documentary “Cherokee Diplomacy in South Carolina: 1777” for the Museum of the Cherokee in South Carolina. Telling the story of the Cherokees in the American Revolution and of Alexander Cameron’s extraordinary saga is an endeavor that has spanned the past 12 years of her life, she said. “Alexander Cameron, the liaison between the Cherokee and British Crown, especially intrigued me. His world was part Scot, part Cherokee and part British sovereignty. The script was driven by my fascination with Cameron’s predicament. I asked myself, ‘How would I feel if my efforts, out of a sense of honor, became my undoing?’” she said. “The most emotionally charged music I composed for the film is ‘Beloved No More,’ which expresses the gravity of Cameron’s loss – loss of home, loss of authority and loss of honor.” Dean said she was raised primarily in Columbia, South Carolina, with frequent stays on her grandfather’s North Carolina mountain farm. “My ancestors had lived in the Smoky Mountains since the early 18th century. In 1776, on their way to burn Cherokee towns, 2,500 militiamen, including my six-generation grandfather, marched over what later became my mother’s childhood farm. My half-Cherokee cousin and I spent many summer days exploring the creeks, woods and waterfalls that would later be depicted in the book and film ‘Cold Mountain.’ That ‘A Demand of Blood’ and ‘Cameron’ involves my husband’s Cherokee ancestors, and some of my own, in a profound way ties me to this stirring story of the American Revolution,” Dean said. While writing her book and the movie, she said she became intrigued by the strong friendship between Cameron and Cherokee war chief Dragging Canoe and their ability to survive the crushing blow of the American Revolution. In late 2013, Dean received a grant from the Graham Foundation of South Carolina to finance the film. Several casting directors advised her that the role of Dragging Canoe would be challenging to cast, and it was. After exhausting talent possibilities on the East Coast, Dean contacted a casting agent out West and found Jon Proudstar, who has appeared in several films. The 37-minute movie was filmed in Brattonsville, South Carolina, and Macon County, North Carolina. “As I say in the author’s note of ‘A Demand of Blood,’ stories are elemental to the human experience. We need stories. We need them because they are what connect us to each other. And it seems the ones that connect us deeply usually depict a man’s dark night of the soul and his eventual triumph over it,” Dean said. “As I ruminated about Cameron’s sudden loss of liberty, I realized that at the deepest part of our humanity, personal liberty proves to be our greatest need. The film’s story raises the question: Is it possible to fight for my own freedom, without depriving someone else of theirs?” For more information, visit <a href="http://www.CameronTheFilm.com" target="_blank">www.CameronTheFilm.com</a> or email <a href="mailto: Cherokee1776@gmail.com">Cherokee1776@gmail.com</a>.
BY STAFF REPORTS
07/11/2016 10:00 AM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – The Cherokee Speakers Bureau will be held from 13:30 p.m. to 4 p.m. on July 14 in the Community Ballroom located behind the Restaurant of the Cherokee. All Cherokee speakers are invited to attend. Anyone wishing to bring a side dish or a dessert can do so. Come speak Cherokee and enjoy food and fellowship. For more information, call Edna Jones at 918-453-5151, John Ross at 918-453-6170 or Roy Boney Jr. at 918-453-5487.
BY STAFF REPORTS
07/08/2016 12:00 PM
PARK HILL, Okla. – The Cherokee Heritage Center will host Saturday workshops designed to promote and preserve traditional Cherokee art. The hands-on workshops will showcase traditional art forms and will be held once a month starting on July 9. Registration is open for the July 9 flat reed basketry class led by Cherokee Nation citizen Danielle Culp, as well as the Aug. 13 1700s Cherokee clothing class led by Cherokee National Treasure Tonia Hogner-Weavel. Classes are from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. and cost $40 to participate. All materials are provided. Class sizes are limited so early registration is recommended. For more information or to RSVP, call 918-456-6007, ext. 6161 or email <a href="mailto: tonia-weavel@cherokee.org">tonia-weavel@cherokee.org</a>. The CHC is located at 21192 S. Keeler Drive.