Chickasaw citizen weaves cane, film into SEASAM showstopper

Chickasaw Nation citizen and employee Kelley Lunsford’s “Best in Show” submission to the 2018 Southeastern Art Show and Market, titled “Koh-dah-crom-eah,” is a traditional Chickasaw mat made of sliced cane and 8mm Kodachrome film. In this close-up, one sees the images of a family vacationing at Disneyland in the early 1960s.

TISHOMINGO – “Southeastern Art Show and Market attendees probably didn’t realize the submission named “Best in Show” contained an actual “show.”

Woven throughout Kelley Lunsford’s prize-winning mat is 8mm film of a family’s 1960-era vacation to Disneyland.

In fact, upon close inspection, one may actually see children riding a rollercoaster in each frame!

“It is a traditional Chickasaw mat. In the Southeast, our ancestors weaved mats for all different kinds of purposes. It was an item to sit on, and mats were used in burials to cover the deceased,” Lunsford explained of her piece, proclaimed the best 2018 SEASAM entry.

The twill-patterned mat is woven with cane. To make the piece contemporary, Lunsford turned to eBay, a web-based auction house where people bid “on the oddest items you can image,” Lunsford said with a laugh.

She had already cut cane to approximately the size of 8mm film, which was the most popular film used by families to shoot home movies in the early ‘60s. She then searched for 8mm film and discovered some in an eBay auction.

To her amazement, Lunsford found herself in a bidding war for the footage.

“I paid more than I wanted to pay, but I just love how it looks. The old film has dimples in it that really accentuates the woven pattern,” Lunsford said.

The popular film was called Kodachrome and was celebrated by professional photographers as the first film to produce realistic color images.

Lunsford calls her submission “Koh-dah-crom-eah.”

It is the Norman resident’s way of honoring the tonal qualities and cadence of the Chickasaw language.

She works for the Chickasaw Nation Department of Commerce as senior manager of tourism, art and retail. Lunsford explained she is a “buyer,” working with artists to fill Chickasaw Nation-owned galleries and retail operations.

The Stratford High School graduate is multitalented. 

“I am currently working on a painting that I am very excited about, and I recently attended a weaving conference. I was shown a new diagonal technique I am anxious to try,” she said.

Her oil painting is of a pileated woodpecker, described by the National Audubon Society as “a dashing bird with a flaming red crest.” Pileated woodpeckers are about the size of a small crow. Their plumage is red, black and white. They are the second largest woodpecker in North America behind the ivory-billed woodpecker, which is believed to be extinct.

Woodpeckers are sacred to the Chickasaw people as fierce birds. Their pecking is believed to signal new opportunities for those who listen and heed the meaning of the sound. Many tribes also believe woodpeckers possess healing powers.

Lunsford thinks traditional red, black and white face paint on Chickasaw warriors preparing for battle is similar to markings on woodpeckers.

“In my painting, I have a Chickasaw warrior on one side and the pileated woodpecker on the other. They are looking eye to eye,” Lunsford said.

SEASAM award winners submitted artwork that included paintings, drawings, photographs, sculptures, jewelry, pottery, textiles, baskets, regalia and more.

The top winners in each category were: Best in Show, Lunsford, Chickasaw; Best in Division, Cultural, Tyra Shackleford, Chickasaw; Best in Division 3D Art, Troy Jackson, Cherokee; and Best in Division 2D Art, Bryan Waytula, Cherokee.

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