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

About the Author
Born in Dayton, Ohio, Tesina first started working as an intern for the Cherokee Phoenix after receiving the John Shurr Journalism Award in 2009. Later that year, Tesina received her bachelor’s degree in journalism from Ball State University in Muncie, Ind., and in 2010 joined the Phoenix staff as a reporter.    

In 2006, Tesina received an internship at The Forum newspaper in Fargo, N.D., after attending the American Indian Journalism Institute at the University of South Dakota. She also attended the AIJI summer program in 2007 and in 2009 she participated in the Native American Journalists Association student projects as a reporter. Tesina is currently a member of NAJA and the Investigative Reporters & Editors organization.
TESINA-JACKSON@cherokee.org • 918-453-5000 ext. 6139
Born in Dayton, Ohio, Tesina first started working as an intern for the Cherokee Phoenix after receiving the John Shurr Journalism Award in 2009. Later that year, Tesina received her bachelor’s degree in journalism from Ball State University in Muncie, Ind., and in 2010 joined the Phoenix staff as a reporter. In 2006, Tesina received an internship at The Forum newspaper in Fargo, N.D., after attending the American Indian Journalism Institute at the University of South Dakota. She also attended the AIJI summer program in 2007 and in 2009 she participated in the Native American Journalists Association student projects as a reporter. Tesina is currently a member of NAJA and the Investigative Reporters & Editors organization.

Culture

BY JAMI MURPHY
Reporter
04/17/2015 08:00 AM
PARK HILL, Okla. – The Cherokee Heritage Center’s archives for 2-D and 3-D collections are in dire need of a new storage location, CHC officials said. At a March 26 Tribal Council meeting, CHC Director Candessa Tehee said the archives located at the center have four threats working against them: temperature, humidity, light and pests. Unfortunately, temperature is a threat that CHC Curator Mikel Yantz and the center’s interim archivist cannot currently control, Tehee said. Yantz, who runs the permanent collections as well as the temporary and permanent exhibits in the museum, said the museum’s basement houses the archives and collections. “We have two separate areas downstairs. One is for archives, which is where we have our two-dimensional objects – so newspapers, letters and photographs,” he said. “We also have a separate area for collections, and that’s our three-dimensional objects – so pottery, basketry and stickball sticks. Anything that need to be put on larger shelves.” He said temperature control is the biggest concern when trying to preserve and maintain the archives and collections. “The building that we have wasn’t created four decades ago to sustain the temperature and humidity, so we’re looking forward to trying to fix that by possibly having a new building,” Yantz said. “If you have a higher temperature and higher humidity, it’s very susceptible to fabric or porous materials like wood and especially paper because what it will do is it will increase the moisture, and so it will start growing mold and start deteriorating those much faster than if it was a cooler temperature.” The average temperature for the basement is about 70 degrees, which Yantz says is too high. He said the humidity is OK in the winter, but in the summer as the humidity climbs so does the possibility of damage to the archives and collections. He said the ideal temperature is 60 degrees with 40 percent humidity. “And sometimes it fluctuates here in the building with the temperature outside,” Yantz said. “And as we know in Oklahoma, the temperature ranges from 20 to 120 (degrees) sometimes. And for us to sustain that year-round isn’t possible with what we have.” Yantz said space is another issue facing the CHC archives and collections. “We’re looking to create is around 7,000 square feet, which would double our size, but we’re also going to make sure that building is expandable so when we grow that room and building can grow with us,” he said. “The building will be right next to this museum. So if we need to transfer anything from that building to our exhibit area – because we do display a lot of our archives and collections – we’ll be able to do that and keep the document safe.” Tehee said there have been two recommendations. One is to refurbish the interior of the basement with the other being to build and on-site, metal-fabricated building that would be double the size of the basement. Yantz said the Cherokee National Historical Society board, which governs the CHC, is raising money through granting agencies and possibly the Cherokee Nation and Cherokee Nation Businesses with hopes of creating a new storage area. Yantz said the CHC’s mission is to preserve, promote and teach the Cherokee history and culture. “And the documents and objects that we have here and that we preserve at the museum support that mission. It’s vital to make sure that these last for generations,” he added.
BY STAFF REPORTS
04/15/2015 02:00 PM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – Cherokee Nation Cultural Tourism and Preservation Oklahoma are partnering to teach people how to restore historical remains etched in stone. Professional gravestone and masonry conservator Jonathan Appell, member of the Preservation Trades Network, will lead the gravestone conservation workshop from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. on May 7-8 at the Tahlequah Public Cemetery. An expert in cemetery preservation planning, Appell will lead the interactive training while covering topics on how to reset stones, repair fragmented stones, repoint and clean masonry and use infill material and appropriate repair materials. Tools and most materials will be provided for the workshops. Attendees are encouraged to bring a folding chair for comfort. Appell has performed gravestone preservation and planning projects on historic cemeteries throughout the U.S., including the Congressional Cemetery in Washington, D.C.; The Granary in Boston; Sleepy Hollow Cemetery in Tarrytown, New York; The First Presbyterian Church Cemetery in Greensboro, North Carolina; and The New Haven Crypt in New Haven, Connecticut. Lunch will be provided and the cost to attend is $45. The workshop is limited to 25 people on a first-come, first-served basis. To reserve space or get more information, go to <a href="http://www.preservationOK.org" target="_blank">www.preservationOK.org</a>.
BY WILL CHAVEZ
Senior Reporter
04/13/2015 08:00 AM
WICHITA, Kan. – Meredith Radke-Gannon, a Cherokee artist and high school art teacher in Wichita, is taking part in a public-art project called “Keepers on Parade” that will place 10-foot tall fiberglass sculptures throughout the city. The sculptures are inspired by the “Keeper of the Plains” sculpture in downtown Wichita. Kiowa artist Blackbear Bosin created the sculpture, and the group “Together Wichita,” made up of businesses and organizations, has recruited artists to paint the sculptures to showcase the city’s qualities. Radke-Gannon is completing a second painted sculpture, which is part of 50 to 75 sculptures city officials hope to place in the next year. “Keeper” sculptures are decorated with Native American themes or Kansas-themed paintings. Radke-Gannon chose to use Native American themes. She said the sculpture’s design could symbolize reaching toward the sky, sending prayers up to the heavens with smoke, a star symbol or even a sunflower facing its top toward the sun. Radke-Gannon grew up in McPherson, but her family originated in Chelsea, Oklahoma. She may have grown up in Kansas, but she said her interest in Native art began in Oklahoma. “A moment that really began my journey in Native American art was when I was 8 years old. My grandparents took me on an art adventure trip to the Cherokee Heritage Center, and I’ll never forget the artwork that was portrayed there and the Willard Stone wood-carved sculpture entitled ‘Exodus,’” she said. “After viewing the artwork, they drove me to Mr. Stone’s home and art studio. It was a moment I’ll never forget that really inspired me to explore art. He worked in a number of mediums and showed us the wood-carved sculpture project he was working on at the time. His warm spirit and creativity blessed me and inspired me to keep learning more about Native arts and culture.” She attended Kansas State University for art education before studying textile weaving and printing at the Art Institute in Kansas City, Missouri. “I was first drawn to weaving and textiles because of the process and colors that could be achieved but also because of the textile traditions in Cherokee culture,” she said. Later she did commercial weaving and weaving for her artwork before having children and staying home to raise them. Eight years ago she began teaching art, first as an elementary art education teacher and then as an art teacher at Northeast Magnet High School. She has also started taking oil-painting classes. “That was a year and a half ago and ever since then I’ve been painting non stop. I do some wood sculptures, too. As a weaver it’s so labor intensive. Like when I’d weave it would be an inch an hour or half an inch an hour. It was so time consuming that it was really hard to get out what was in my head onto fabric, so that’s why I’ve gone really crazy with painting because it’s a lot faster and it gets out what I’m wanting to portray in each piece,” she said. “And then the (“Keepers on Parade”) project came along, and I submitted designs for that.” She was among the first eight artists chosen to create designs and decorate the initial “Keepers on Parade” sculptures. Her first design was based on designs from the Wichita tribe. Her design for the second sculpture is based on the Kansas state flag and its symbols. The “Keepers on Parade” project is similar to a project in Cherokee, North Carolina, where bear sculptures were painted and placed throughout the town or the project in Muskogee, Oklahoma, where artists painted guitar sculptures. “They are trying to bring community pride together, something that will make a lasting impression. They are really trying to focus now on the town’s symbol with the ‘Keeper of the Plains.’ It is one of the most visited places in town,” she said. She entered a painting in the 2014 Trail of Tears Art Show at the Cherokee Heritage Center in Park Hill, Oklahoma, and entered a painting and two wooden sculptures for this year’s show, which was slated to open on April 18. “I really want to do more entries and keep showing. That’s my goal,” she said. “I think as a teacher, I think students are really interested in what I’m doing because I’m creating along with them; I’m not just teaching them something. I’m also showing them art is a such viable medium, and I can express deep meaning things related to my culture.”
BY STAFF REPORTS
04/10/2015 12:00 PM
WEST SILOAM SPRINGS, Okla. – The Oklahoma Chapter of the Trail of Tears Association will hold its spring meeting from 10 a.m. to noon on April 11 at the Cherokee Casino West Siloam Springs. The public is invited to attend the meeting to listen to keynote speaker Jay Hannah speak about how Cherokee people coped and survived following their removal to Indian Territory from their eastern homelands. Hannah is a Cherokee Nation citizen who grew up in Adair County. His family traveled on the Trail of Tears in 1839 and settled 20 miles from where he grew up in Peavine. Hannah holds a bachelor’s degree from Northeastern State University and a master’s degree from Oklahoma State University. He is also the executive vice president of financial services for BancFirst Corporation in Oklahoma City. This year’s “Remember the Removal” bicycle riders will also be guests at the meeting. At 2:30 p.m. on April 18 the Oklahoma Chapter of TOTA will hold a marking and honoring ceremony for three Cherokee people who survived the Trail of Tears but later died in Indian Territory. The ceremony will be held at the Round Springs Cemetery in Eucha in Delaware County. Removal survivors Charlotte Chopper, Chief Charles Thompson and Anderson Springston will be honored and TOTA plaques will be attached to their graves.
BY STAFF REPORTS
04/09/2015 04:00 PM
WASHINGTON –Without actually being in attendance, individuals will be able to enjoy “Cherokee Days” via live webcasts and numerous amounts of information that Cherokee Nation will be sharing on their social media accounts. “Cherokee Days” events begin on April 10 at the National Museum of the American Indian in Washington. “Cherokee Days” consist of the partnering of the CN, Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians and United Keetoowah Band to share the Cherokee story. “By partnering with the Smithsonian to stream the sessions on Cherokee history, genealogy and culture, we open the experience of Cherokee Days to a much broader audience,” CN Principal Chief Bill John Baker said. “We encourage everyone interested to log on and participate in this unique gathering of tribal historians, artisans and cultural experts. The information collectively shared by the three tribes will be educational as well as entertaining. It’s important we make this experience accessible to the world.” On April 10, Robert Lewis will tell traditional Cherokee stories, Cherokee National Treasure Tommy Wildcat will preform with his flute, the Cherokee National Youth Choir will preform and there will be traditional dances. On April 11, John Ross Jr. will give those interested an opportunity to learn more about the Cherokee language; Catherine Foreman Gray will present a lecture about the Trial of Tears; Roy Hamilton will speak about Cherokee genealogy; EBCI speakers will speak about the importance of natural resources; and Ernestine Berry will help people learn more about the history of the UKB. The performances start at 10:30 a.m. (EDT) on April 10 and presentations start at 10 a.m. (EDT) on April 11 and can be viewed online via live webcast at <a href="http://nmai.si.edu/multimedia/webcasts/" target="_blank">http://nmai.si.edu/multimedia/webcasts/</a>. According to a CN press release, the public educational program is April 10-12 and includes an exhibit showcasing the history and culture of the three tribes, live cultural art demonstrations, and scheduled cultural performances. Among the activities is a make-and-take experience, which allows children to create traditional Cherokee items. CN officials will continually provide an inside look of the three-day event through its Tumblr page at <a href="http://www.CherokeeNationNews.tumblr.com" target="_blank">www.CherokeeNationNews.tumblr.com</a>. There will also be updates on the CN’s Facebook pages and Twitter accounts. For more information, visit <a href="http://www.AmericanIndian.si.edu" target="_blank">www.AmericanIndian.si.edu</a>.
BY STAFF REPORTS
04/08/2015 04:00 PM
CAVE SPRING, Ga. – The Cave Spring Historical Society invites the public to join the Cave Spring community for a workday to unveil the 1810 Vann Cherokee Cabin on April 11. A local citizen discovered the Vann Cherokee Cabin beneath the dilapidated structure of the Green Hotel five years ago. Hotel rooms had been added to the cabin obscuring the original structure. After extensive research, it was verified a Cherokee man named Avery Vann built the two-story, hand-hewed log cabin in 1810. “The cabin needs a lot of work, but is in relatively good shape,” Michael Burton, president of the Cave Spring Historical Society, said. “We are excited to unveil the historic cabin and hope to raise enough funds to restore the structure and open it to the public by next June.” The society’s goal is to fundraise $50,000 for building restorations. The National Park Service officially recognizes the structure as a historic place. Additionally, the Trail of Tears Association officially recognizes the cabin as being located on the Trail of Tears. Volunteers are asked to meet at 8 a.m. on Broad Street at the Cave Spring Square. Volunteers should wear gloves and bring hand tools for the demolition of the dilapidated structure outside the cabin. The Cave Spring Historical Society was originally formed to save and restore historical buildings in Cave Spring’s Rolater Park. The society and local citizens continue to work together to protect and preserve historical buildings in Cave Spring. For more information, call Burton at 770-748-8542 or email <a href="mailto: aBurtonMik@mac.com">aBurtonMik@mac.com</a>.