Artist’s spark reignited in darkest hour

BY CHAD HUNTER
Reporter
10/31/2019 08:30 AM
Main Cherokee Phoenix
Basket maker Merle “Cate” Fritz, of Tahlequah, sells her Native art online and at the Tahlequah Creates gallery downtown. Fritz is the Cherokee Phoenix’s fourth quarter giveaway artist. CHAD HUNTER/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
Main Cherokee Phoenix
Artist Merle “Cate” Fritz weaves a basket Oct. 17 at the Tahlequah Creates gallery downtown. CHAD HUNTER/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
Main Cherokee Phoenix
Merle “Cate” Fritz begins weaving a basket on Oct. 17 at the Tahlequah Creates gallery. Fritz donated baskets for the Cherokee Phoenix’s fourth quarter giveaway. CHAD HUNTER/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
Main Cherokee Phoenix
Baskets for sale by artist Merle “Cate” Fritz are on display at the Tahlequah Creates gallery. CHAD HUNTER/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
TAHLEQUAH – The always-creative Merle “Cate” Fritz was inspired by a combination of cultural curiosity, an artistic grandmother and a series of painful events to embrace the art of basket weaving.

“This is the Cherokee double-wall basket that I do,” Fritz said. “Growing up, I didn’t have a whole lot of Native American influences, but I was always curious and interested. I’m always trying to learn more. That’s one of the reasons I got into basket weaving, because it’s traditional through the culture. I wanted to keep that going.”

Born Merle Omega Welch – named after both her grandmothers – the Muscogee (Creek) Nation citizen from Tahlequah is also known as Cate, pronounced “chawtee,” which means red in the Creek language.

“I was always interested in arts and crafts because my grandmother, she was always making something or crafting something,” Fritz said. “She was hosting classes at church on arts and crafts. She did fabric crafts and beadwork. She could do anything.”

Fritz, now 31, was inspired to further her passion for art, specifically baskets, during a stressful stretch in 2014 “when everything went downhill.” Her husband, Josh, was severely injured in a head-on car collision, requiring a lengthy recovery.

“My grandma passed away while my husband was in the hospital,” Fritz said. “She was the one who raised me for the most part of my life. After all of that happened, that’s when I really started weaving to try to process all the grief. I’ve been creating my whole life. But baskets are really what I love doing. It’s just therapeutic.”

Her hobby morphed into a business when she began selling her baskets online that same year after taking a class taught by Cherokee National Treasure and storyteller Robert Lewis.

“I’ve sold hundreds of baskets,” she said. “I’ve shipped to Canada and all over the United States. People put them on their dressers, in their bathroom. I use them for everything. I have tall ones to put pencils in, pens. The small ones are really cute to put next to the bathroom sink so you can put your rings in, or your jewelry next to your bed.”

Fritz, the Cherokee Phoenix’s fourth quarter giveaway artist, sells wares on the e-commerce website Etsy under the shop name Chained2Kindness.

Fritz said she draws color inspiration from the seasons. “I typically like to make rainbows in the spring time, then I’ll do orangey, fall colors in the fall. I love the bright blues for the winter time. But sometimes I just go with what I’m feeling. I really love the green, so I do a lot of green and purple and whatever sells the best. I sell a lot of purple and blues.”

Fritz looks back on 2014 and its challenges as a turning point.

“It’s led me to this, and this is pretty exciting,” she said of a new artistic endeavor called Tahlequah Creates. “I love being a part of this.”

Founded by Fritz and other artists, Tahlequah Creates features a gallery, gifts, music, events, classes and more.

“We just kind of all grouped up with the idea and made it happen,” Fritz said. “We’re a co-op so we all make decisions together. We have this wonderful community of artists. We just have a huge variety of cultures represented here. We’ve all just blended together to make a wonderful family.”

Tahlequah Creates, located at 215 N. Muskogee Ave., recently hit six months of being open.

“We do better and better every month and have more people coming to our events,” Fritz said, “and we have wonderful customers who keep coming back. We get pretty good foot traffic, too. A lot of people like to stop in and just visit.”

The artist co-op has grown from less than 10 members to two dozen, including Fritz’s 13-year-old daughter, Libby.

“We are jam-packed with art,” Fritz said. “The best part about it is the networking that we bring together because each of us have a different type of art, customer base, different community we’re a part of. It exposes everybody to a new audience that might not have seen any of their work before.”

Fritz is one of several artists who lead classes. Her students learn how to weave a double-wall basket from start to finish. “My students have made some great baskets. I’ve had three students come back to another class and another class. It’s fun, though, because we all get to hang out. I guess it’s kind of like back in the day when the ancestors were sitting around together weaving baskets – that same type of community bonding.”

Her next class is scheduled for 5 p.m., Nov. 6. Cost is $25; all supplies are included. Call 918-931-8303 for information.
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