Thornton-Brison creates traditional Cherokee regalia
CHECOTAH – Due to her artistry of creating pre-contact regalia, pucker toe moccasins and textiles, the Cherokee Phoenix has chosen Julie Thornton-Brison as its 2020 winner of the Seven Feathers award for culture.
A Cherokee Nation citizen and Checotah resident, Thornton-Brison manages Waterspider Creations, which has a Facebook page, is on Instagram @waterspidercreations, and can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org
Thornton-Brison can trace a branch of her lineage to England’s King Edward III, and is also interested in her European ancestors – how people came from different parts of Earth to merge into her family. But her immediate environment has been Cherokee.
“I was raised in a Cherokee home and was raised knowing who I was and our rich history,” she said. “Culture has impacted every single part of my life and has influenced even the choice of foods we eat in our household. I do my utmost to look at life in a way that is Cherokee based-centered and by living this way I have found peace in a world full of chaos. Medicine and traditions are our first go-tos in our house as well. We believe in the importance of every living thing, in the importance of respecting nature and what the Creator gives us to live on in life. We keep things simple in our household and my child has benefitted from this.”
Thornton-Brison deals with a rare disease, familial hemiplegic migraines, which causes severe migraines and temporary episodes of paralysis similar to stroke.
“Because of this, I no longer can drive and rely heavily on my service dog, Lincoln, and family each day,” she said. “This disease has made me realize the importance and value of making each moment count.”
A Southeastern Woodland textiles artist, Thornton-Brison focuses on 18th century pre-contact wool wrap skirts and leggings, feather capes, trade shirts, bandolier bags, purses and finger woven garters.
“I also make pucker toe moccasins and contemporary Indigenous clothing which is pan-Indigenous and stomp skirts and shirts specific to our Cherokee culture,” she said. “I bead using the two-needle method as well as photographing Cherokee art, culture and other traditional surroundings. My work practically sustains our culture because it is worn, seen and used as educational representation of authenticity, infused with the reminder that we are still here. I have been creating and teaching for 10 years and will continue for the entirety of my life.”
Thornton-Brison said her family also helped steer her toward traditional textile arts.
“My Granny was very stern on the fact that I should be able to do everything in relation to sewing both by hand and by machine, because ‘you never knew what life would bring,’” she said. “I still remember her instruction on the correct way to do a running stitch and her insightful knowledge on how to do so efficiently. The basics that my Granny taught me I use every day in my work as a seamstress. In regard to my other artistic talents, I was taught initially by Robert Lewis to finger weave, round reed basketry by my mother, and flat reed (basketry) by Shawna Cain.”
Upon notice of receiving a Seven Feathers award, Thornton-Brison said she was shocked and grateful.
“I’m so thankful that this award represents opportunity for those who have limited access to cultural knowledge in our Cherokee community at home and afar,” she said. “To receive this award is an incredible experience because I have chosen to be a servant for our people despite everything that has been thrown at me, and I refuse to let it get me down.”