DURANT – “It has a picture of several generations of women and they are passing on things to the next generation,” Choctaw artist Carole Ayers said, explaining “The Thread of Life,” one of her watercolor paintings. “There are four women in the picture, but they are all connected by the umbilical cord, which I call the thread of life. They are passing on the spirit of the earth, the hope of the future.”
A young girl watched attentively as Ayers reached over to help her paint a small watercolor during Meet the Artist on July 18. A red cloth, in sharp contrast to the purples and greens of the girl’s painting, covered the table they worked on. A palette of paint, a cup of colorful water, and assorted brushes rested at arms reach in wait to aid the two. Once finished, the girl held the painting up to her mother and received praise for her work.
Ayers, who is also the president of the Durant Senior Community Center, was a featured artist for Meet the Artist, a monthly event managed by the Choctaw Nation Marketing Department aimed at giving exposure to Choctaw artists and culture. These events are held at the Choctaw Welcome Center in Colbert, which displays cultural items, pieces of art, and handcrafted gifts for travelers interested in Choctaw culture.
“We had people from all over this time,” Carolyn Cross, Manager of the Choctaw Welcome Center, said. “After it was posted online, some people drove all the way out.” Ayers has had art booths set up at different art shows, including at the Choctaw Labor Day Festival, Red Earth, Haskell Indian Art Market, Tulsa Indian Art Market, the Chickasaw Festival, among others. She said she sees her art less as business and more as sharing her culture and preserving it for future generations. “After I retired from my nursing job—I worked 35 years as a nurse—my husband asked me what I wanted to do with my time and I said I’d like to study my heritage more and do more painting,” Ayers said. “He got me a very nice camera. I went to Red Earth and took my camera and become fascinated with the dancers and the colors and the music.”
Soon, Ayers began painting the photographs she took while at cultural gatherings. She said she preferred to work in watercolors, and preferred to work with people as her subjects. “There is a special thing to water coloring, you have to look at the light, and you have to leave the light. Once you put paint on it, you can’t go back,” she said. “For me, one of the main things was, I discovered that I like to do pictures of people. It’s almost as if the face in the paper comes out, the personality of that person comes out of the paper.” “This little girl…” Ayers said, beginning a story. “I was in my booth one day and a lady came in and had her child stand there and look in the same direction as the painting. She was a dead ringer for my picture. I had never seen anything like that.”
Verree Shaw, Marketing Director for the Choctaw Nation, said there are currently 285 Choctaw artists like Carole Ayers registered with the nation, and they aim to reach 1,000 artists. “The artists are invited to cultural meetings and meet-the-artist events at the Choctaw Welcome Center. And we are striving to have Choctaw artist bazaars four times a year,” Shaw said.
Shaw also said, through the events, with marketing plans, everyone who loves both traditional and contemporary Choctaw culture should have the capability of getting in contact with the artists and their artwork. Additionally, art lovers can view the artists on display at www.choctawstore.com.
Ayers said, with her art, she hopes “people get a sense of the history of our culture, and it will make them think about where they are today, and what they want to preserve of their past and their ancestors.”