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(Many Paths)
An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America
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Turkey-feather cape wins Best of Show at Cherokee Art Market
by WILL CHAVEZ - Senior Reporter, Cherokee Phoenix

CATOOSA, Okla. – It won best of class in the Diverse Art Forms division and Best of Show for the entire 6th Annual Cherokee Art Market, but the turkey-feather cape made by Cherokee artist Shawna Cain may have also won the comeback category if there was one.

Like pottery making and beadwork, the making of turkey-feather capes among the Cherokee was lost over time. Now all three have been reclaimed, and Cain, of Twist Mountain in Adair County, expects more Cherokee people will seek out wild turkey feathers to make their own capes.

Her exposure to turkey-feather capes came through fellow Cherokee artist Lisa Rutherford who was making topper feather capes for women that cover only the shoulders. Later, Rutherford gathered a large amount of turkey feathers for the two women to create a full-length cape, but then became too busy to work on it.

Cain said she carried on with the project on her own, which took about 10 weeks to complete.

"Lisa and Mary Smith (Muscogee Creek) both inspired me because they were making feather capes and teaching how to make them on a net," she said.

Cain added the artists did research on turkey-feather capes at the Arkansas Archeological Survey and discovered Southeastern tribes used net backing to attach the wild-turkey feathers. The women decided to try out the method, Cain said, and it worked for them though it took some experimentation to get it right.

There are feathers from nine turkeys in her award-winning cape, Cain said. Tail, wing and breast feathers were used along with white down feathers to create accents on the cape to signify it was a peace chief cape. The award-winning cape is titled "Peace Chief Wild Turkey Cape."

In ancient times, Cherokee towns had a peace chief and war chief. White signified the piece chief and red the war chief.

"We know our chief wore capes, and we had a peace chief and a war chief," she said.

The only draw back for bringing this tradition back is finding enough turkey feathers for people to make their own capes. Cain said she and her husband Roger offer to buy feathers from hunters and people also give them feathers. She said the lack of feathers is an issue, but one solution is using feathers from other birds like ducks.

Cain said Rutherford hopes to teach courses on how to create the netting to attach the turkey feathers. She added some Cherokee women are wearing the turkey feather topper capes as a fashion accessory, and she hopes through her work and the work of Rutherford and Smith that the tradition of turkey-feather capes will fully return among the Cherokee.

The 6th Annual Cherokee Art Market, held Oct. 8 and 9 at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino, featured art from more than 130 accomplished Native American artists representing 45 tribes from across the nation. Art forms included beadwork, pottery, painting, basketry, sculptures and textiles.

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