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(Many Paths)
An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America
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Sisters Enjoy Creating Cherokee Art Together
by Will Chavez - Cherokee Phoenix Assistant Editor
Sisters Carlene Wiley, left, and Shirley Sims show off ribbons they won at a past Trail of Tears Art Show and Sale. The sisters can create numerous types of work from clothing to beadwork. COURTESY

TAHLEQUAH – It could be said that two Cherokee sisters who are multi-talented artists came to it naturally.

Shirley Sims, of Christie, and Carlene Wiley, of Watts, grew up in Pumpkin Hollow near Briggs. They made beadwork as children whenever they could find or purchase beads. Later, they made baskets and were naturals at it.

Sims said she got started with basket making in 2001 while taking a computer class at Skelly School near Watts. She was asked to if she would be interested in working on baskets. At first she was hesitant, but then she did it and “got into it.”

“I think I went to two classes, and then I invited her (Wiley) to come with me, and she loved it. That’s how we got started, and we’ve really enjoyed it,” she said.

Sims said she and her sister started making double-wall baskets using commercial reed.

Wiley said she was told “she was a natural” basket maker when she started learning how to make them. She still has her first basket as a keepsake. About two years later, the sisters entered their baskets in art shows, starting with the annual Trail of Tears Art Show and Sale at the Cherokee Heritage Center in Park Hill. Sims said she didn’t win with her baskets, but instead with beadwork she entered.

“That really encouraged me when I won first place. When they showed me that blue ribbon I went crazy,” she said. “That’s what really encouraged me, when I got that blue ribbon. Most of my blue ribbons are for beadwork. That’s my favorite. I’ve won lots of blue ribbons for my beadwork.”

Cherokee artist Shirley Sims, of Christie, shows two of her beaded bandolier bags. Sims can create various types of artwork to honor her Cherokee heritage but prefers to create beaded artwork. (photo by Will Chavez - Cherokee Phoenix)

Since their early art shows and contests, they have won numerous ribbons for their baskets, beadwork, ribbon shirts, painted gourds, jewelry, paintings, textiles, ribbons skirts and quilts.

“We’ve got a boxful of ribbons,” Sims said. “I think we were more proud of the ribbons than we were the money. It’s a good feeling to get those.”

Wiley also enjoys beading medallions, but she said making baskets is “her main thing.” However, she “loves to sew, too.”

The women both speak Cherokee. It was their first language. Also, they research their artwork so that it’s authentic to the woodland-style or Cherokee patterns. Wiley said they try not to copy each other’s artistic ideas, but sometimes by coincidence it happens.

“Other artists have the same ideas we have sometimes. It’s just coincidence I guess, but we all have the same ideas at times,” Wiley said.

Sims said she has also competed against her sister in basketry in art shows but they try not to compete against each other.

During the recent Cherokee National Holiday they set up a booth at the CHC. They have been selling their work at the holiday for nearly 20 years.

Cherokee artists Carlene Wiley, left, and Shirley Sims grew up in Pumpkin Hollow near Briggs and have always been interested in creating art to reflect their culture. Here they are at their booth at the Cherokee Heritage Center during an annual Cherokee National Holiday. COURTESY

“We enjoy that, too. We meet people from all over the world actually. We sell our stuff or send it off or take it to where they’re from. We sold some art to people from China one time,” Wiley said.

Sims said they have had customers from Austria, Japan, Europe and many of the states.

“They come back every year and they look for us. That makes us feel good. We’re known as ‘the sisters,’ and they always come back and say hello,” Sims said. “We have a lot of fun doing this.”

Incorporating Cherokee culture into their artwork is important for them because the people who buy their art appreciate it and want the culture.

“Yeah, we try to make stuff that would appeal to anyone interested in Cherokee culture,” Wiley said.

Sims added that she and her sister love their culture.

“What got me inspired was when I lived in Europe we had this costume party we wanted to go to and we had make our own stuff,” Sims said. “So I called my mother-in-law and asked her to send me some material. I made these outfits for my husband, and that really got me going…because we won first place with my costumes. And then when my husband retired out of the service, me and her got together. When we started building our baskets that’s what done it all. We started building more.”

Cherokee artist Carlene Buckhorn Wiley, of Watts, shows some of the ribbons she has won over the years for her artwork. She can create numerous types of Native artwork, but says she prefers making baskets and sewing. (photo by Will Chavez - Cherokee Phoenix)
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