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(Many Paths)
An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America
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World Beats A Path To Artist's Door
by Gene Lehmann - Chickasaw Times Media Relations
Dustin Mater at the Artesian Arts Festival with a three-tiered gorget he crafted and carved.

ADA, Okla. – In 2005, Dustin Mater could not have fathomed he would be counted among the premiere Native American artists in the world. Today, his work is in Paris, the Smithsonian Institution, the Chickasaw Nation, adorning Pendleton blankets and in private collections spanning America.

Governor Bill Anoatubby said Mr. Mater was very deserving of his success.

"Dustin is a very talented artist who understands the value of incorporating Chickasaw culture into his work," Gov. Anoatubby said. "He is a great example of artists who are helping revitalize our culture through the use of symbols and designs which have had significance to Chickasaw people for hundreds of years."

His art once was dominated with drawings of "super heroes, monsters and robots."

In California, he struggled to pay bills. He hopped from one freelance job to another. He labored as a bell boy at a large Los Angeles luxury hotel.

Highways were clogged and art commissions were elusive. Jobs to tap his artistic abilities did not seem to exist.

He and wife, Titi, toiled in California in the hotel and restaurant business. Work is how they met, fell in love and eventually married. Mr. Mater also was hustling jobs as a graphic designer.

He shared his artwork with his wife. It was she who first observed reoccurring designs, patterns and swirls resembling Native symbolism. She shared her observations, but Mr. Mater dismissed it.

Looking back, Mr. Mater now knows he was "resisting" art that would launch a national and international career.

"None of this … the Paris sale, the Pendleton blanket design, the Smithsonian, the art commissions … none of it would have happened had I kept resisting where my ancestors and the Creator were wishing to take me," Mr. Mater said. "This is the art that was in my soul and in my heart the whole time."

Come On Oklahoma Borderline
An unusual occurrence reinforced the notion in Mr. Mater it was time to return home.

"I was driving to work one morning and a red fox ran across the freeway," he said. "You never see any wild animals in Los Angeles – ever! That fox crossed eight lanes of traffic and made it safely to the other side at rush hour."

A phone call from Titi beckoned him home from work early trip, the fox reappeared. It again successfully navigated eight lanes of traffic safely.

"I knew it was the Creator speaking to me through that creature," Mr. Mater said.

Arriving home, Titi delivered great news – a family was on its way.

Living the life of a starving artist in California is an acceptable gig as long as artist and spouse are fine with it. When Titi made the announcement Sophie Elizabeth Mater would soon be joining them, the lifestyle lost its luster. It was time to head back to Oklahoma.

Mr. Mater's "7 Days 7 Nights" was auctioned in Paris in June.

Discovering Himself And His Tribe
Mr. Mater was born in California. It was not long afterward his family returned to Oklahoma. Mr. Mater attended school in Ada, graduating high school in 1997.

It was in Oklahoma, in his formative years, he learned he was Chickasaw. He listened to his grandmother tell stories about his tribe, its heritage and its importance as a sovereign nation. He learned he was merely five generations removed from the Trail of Tears.

"Grandmother Carolyn told me all about the old times," he said. "I heard all these amazing stories, but had no visual context to make stories become applicable to art. But she was planting seeds. I didn't know they were planted. They took root when I was about 19 or 20 years old and first saw Mississippian-era art."

Chickasaws forged pottery with elaborately etched designs, usually something meaningful or spiritual to the tribe.

Of particular interest to Mr. Mater is the French gorget, a piece of jewelry worn around the neck. Chickasaws acquired gorgets and metal armbands from, ironically, the Spanish and British. Multiple gorgets may be worn by tribal members, usually as a public signal of their "rank" or "status" within the tribal hierarchy.

Mr. Mater painted and carved. He toiled at being an artist when the family arrived back in Oklahoma. He attempted to find workwith the Chickasaw Nation. With jobs so scarce, Mr. Mater did what he always has done. He hustled work.

While his grandmother told stories, his mother, Charlotte Elizabeth Milligan Carpenter, took a different tack to introduce her son to his Native American roots. They ventured to a Sundance Lakota powwow when he was a youngster.

"It was amazingly beautiful and impactful," Mr. Mater recalled. "When we were there, my heritage came alive for me and that experience still sticks with me to this very day. Really, for the first time, I saw the world through my Native American filter. Our culture is alive"

Mr. Mater's "Spring" blanket marketed by Pendleton.

Warming Up To Opportunity
Pendleton wool blankets have been a part of Native American culture since the company's founding in 1863. The blankets are the premiere of quality craftsmanship. The company also is savvy about marketing and branding.

Almost from inception, Pendleton produced blankets specifically aimed at Native Americans. The blankets were bold and bright with brilliant colors dyed deep into the scoured wool. Linked with the colors were Native American symbols unique to the southwestern tribes.

Mr. Mater admired the company and its dedication to quality, yet the Chickasaw artist saw immediately Pendleton had no blankets featuring Southeastern tribes' ancient designs and symbols.

He contacted them.

Mr. Mater pitched his "Spring" design featuring symbols of a Southeastern tribe – specifically Chickasaw but symbols accepted by other members of the Five Civilized Tribes. Pendleton loved it. When it was accepted for production, it marked the first time the company featured designs of a Southeastern tribe.

The Creator's ever watchful eye is in the design, as is his hand as he is the craftsman of all things. The revered woodpecker brings good luck and protection.

And, typical of Mr. Mater, he colored outside the lines. Life-giving rain drops pepper the work of art.

Mr. Mater believes the blanket's designs, signifying rebirth and fresh beginnings, are especially appropriate as Mississippian-inspired art is currently enjoying a renaissance. Too, Mr. Mater's creation is quite popular and an impressive financial success for Pendleton since market introduction in 2012.

Mr. Mater's "John Herrington: 21st Century Bird Man" on display at the Smithsonian Institution.

Monsters, Robots And Heroes
Mr. Mater is a self-described "nerd." Just recently, a Facebook post showed him in an amusing wig, channeling Princess Leia from "Star Wars" with villainous Darth Vader lurking in the background.

"I haven't forgotten the nerd that resides within me," he said. "I still love superheroes, robots and monsters."

It was a real-life Chickasaw "superhero" that inspired one of his greatest works of art. That action figure is of astronaut John Herrington, the first member of a Native American tribe to blast off from Earth and walk in space.

Mr. Mater was in awe of the great Chickasaw. His gorget shell carving of an ancient Chickasaw wearing a modern-day helmet, his arms bearing the feathers of a falcon, was purchased by the Smithsonian Institution's Museum of the Native American. It is a part of the permanent Smithsonian collection and is on display.

"John Herrington is the man!," Mr. Mater exclaimed. "He's a genuine superhero." The work is titled "John Herrington: 21st Century Bird Man."

The City Of Lights And More
In June, a Mater work sold in Paris. He was commissioned to produce the work and sold it to the buyer who in turn hoped to make a profit for charity. It, too, is considered a classic Mr. Mater piece, titled "7 Days and 7 Nights."

A shell carving with many sacred Chickasaw symbols, the hand and eye of the Creator is the focal point "7 Days and 7 Nights." With the art went something money cannot buy - international acclaim and notoriety for the Ada resident.

Other first-place showings – such as Mr. Mater's three-tiered gorget carving with pearls – catapulted him as one of the "mustsee" artists at the second annual Artesian Arts Festival during May in Sulphur. Mr. Mater is a frequent finisher in the world-recognized Red Earth Festival. He is preparing works to show in Santa Fe, N.M. The show, Southwestern Association of Indian Arts (SWAIA), is a juried show exclusive for the finest Native American artists in the nation.

Mr. Mater works for the Chickasaw Nation as a graphic artist. Hawk Illetewahke Abdurhman Mater joined the family not long ago. Illetewahke is the name of Mr. Mater's ancestors from the Chickasaw homeland. Abdurhman the name of his wife's father.

Not resting on his laurels, Mr. Mater is negotiating with art buyers in Rotterdam and Amsterdam, in the Netherlands. He has been approached by potential customers in Asia.

The world is beating a path to Dustin Mater's door.

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