Oral history interview with Margaret Roach Wheeler

OOHRP, Oklahoma State University
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Little Thunder: My name is Julie Pearson-Little Thunder. Today is Sunday, February 15, 2015, and I'm interviewing Margaret Roach Wheeler who is the featured Honored Elder Artist at the Tulsa Indian Arts Festival this weekend. Margaret, you were a teacher before launching your textile business in 1984 where you've made your mark with one-of-a-kind, loom-woven clothing. Your work has appeared in museum fashion shows, in a theatrical production, and you've continued to teach and give workshops at Chickasaw Nation, as well as overseas. In 2010, you were admitted to the Chickasaw Hall of Fame. Thank you for taking the time to talk with me.

Wheeler: Oh, thank you.

Little Thunder: Where were you born, and where did you grow up?

Wheeler: I was born in Sisseton, South Dakota. My father was in the Bureau of Indian Affairs in school administration, so we traveled. I was only there in Sisseton for one year. Then we moved to Nespelem, Washington. He worked with the 1:00Colville Agency there, and then to Browning, Montana, where he worked with the Blackfeet tribe at Cut Bank Boarding School outside Browning. We were there six years, one of the longest places that we ever were was at Cut Bank. Then he moved back to Oklahoma at Concho with the Cheyenne Arapaho Agency and was there several years. Then finally he ended his career at Tahlequah at Sequoyah Indian School. I was raised in a lot of different places around a lot of different tribes. It was a wonderful upbringing because of that, the education of being around so many different tribes.

Little Thunder: Definitely. Great intertribal education. You mentioned what your father did for a living. How about your mother?

Wheeler: My mother was a housewife. My mother never had a job outside the home in her life. That was in a period of time when women did that sort of thing. It was really wonderful for me and what I turned out doing because my grandmother 2:00also lived with us and didn't have a job outside the home. Fiber work such as crocheting and knitting and embroidery was done constantly in the home. Mother was sewing. She was making clothes for us. I say that's probably why I came up with the affinity. Never weaving. We didn't ever weave, but they had a needle in my hand when I was three years old, and I was learning to embroidery and trying to make me knit and crochet which I was never good at.

That's probably why I love the loom because it was a structured--. It kept my lines even, where in knitting I'd have one side long, and the other--. My stitches were never good, but because I had two women in the household at all times, I think it was a real solid upbringing. Food was important in our lives. My mother, I said, was a professional housewife. Really, she loved it. She loved 3:00to prepare. Everything was beautiful in our home. Food was presented beautifully. The house was appointed beautifully. She was a beautiful woman and dressed beautifully, too. It was really--that was her job.

Little Thunder: That sense of beauty was--.

Wheeler: It was. The sense of beauty, my mother just carried through our home and gave it to us. She had an important job, I always felt like.

Little Thunder: How about siblings?

Wheeler: I have two. I have a brother and a sister. My sister is the oldest. My brother is in between. I made a comment one time when I was speaking, and I was where people knew my parents when I said this. I said that Dad left a child wherever he went. I'm meaning when he was teaching at Colorado River Indian School in Arizona is where my sister, who's almost twenty years older than I am, married and stayed. Then they moved to Concho, eventually. That's where my 4:00brother married and stayed. He's eight years older than I am. Then they came on to Tahlequah where I married, but I didn't stay. I left. They stayed. They both have passed on now, but Lawanda, like I said, we never lived in the same household because she was married before I was born. My brother married when I was [nine] years old, I believe. Was like being an only child, really. Sibling-wise, it was. My brother, I think, took care of me, and I think my sister took care of my brother. Mother had that built-in babysitter before she had another child.

Little Thunder: You've explained your nice close relationship with your maternal grandma. How about with your grandparents on the other side of the family?

Wheeler: Both of my grandfathers died when my parents were children. I only had 5:00grandmothers. My grandmother Roach always lived in the Oklahoma City area. We lived close when we were at Concho. She would visit us in Montana sometimes, and we would see her. My father, who was born in Wapanucka, they migrated to Chickasha. That is a story that I just heard recently. I heard an interview with my father that I'd not heard before. After her husband died, Robert Roach, who was a doctor in Wapanucka, she had four girls and three boys, but she wanted a good education for her girls. She moved to Chickasha to be close to OCW [Oklahoma College for Women] so those girls would have a chance. I thought that was wonderful to have a widow thinking about where can she live to take care of her children. That was new information to me when I first heard that. They were 6:00in Chickasha. That's where my father went to high school. Then Grandmother stayed in that area, around her girls mostly.

They settled in the Oklahoma City area, most of them. One went to Montana. That's the one that I got see. Opal, I got to see quite a bit. If you'll notice, my father's name is Diamond and all my aunts and uncles on that side are jewels. Opal moved to Montana. Ruby and Emerald lived in Oklahoma City. Jewel had passed away by the time I was born. Garnet lived in Oklahoma City, and Onyx was in California. (Laughter) Oklahoma City area is where my father's family was mostly when I was growing up. My grandmother Roach also went to Bacone [College] and was an accomplished organist and loved to play. When she would come visit us, we 7:00were all around the piano, and she was playing the piano. All my family was very musical. I was the only one that wasn't. My other grandmother played beautifully, and my mother and father did, too. Music and the piano was very important. Grandma Joanna Roach was the one that really loved music and played.

Little Thunder: Great mix of artistic influences. What was your first experience of seeing Native art?

Wheeler: When we lived in Montana at Cut Bank, one story--Sammy Bullcalf was the name of a boy in the first grade. I was fascinated because Sammy had an innate ability: he could draw anything. I was watching him constantly, and I was trying to emulate him, trying to draw like Sammy could draw. He was an Indian, and he was doing art, so that was real important to me. The other thing is very lucky 8:00that we grew up at a time that WPA had the artists going out and painting on the Indian school campuses where they would come and paint, and some of the public buildings and post offices always had them.

Here you would see an Oscar Howe painting, that flat-pattern design that I loved, would be on our school campuses. That was really when I just fell in love with that style of painting and knowing it was Indian art. It was majestic because it was so big and it was on the walls. I think our government did a great service because it was in all the post offices. All of our public buildings had wonderful art. The ones I saw, because we were always around Indians, Indian Territory, was Indian art. That was a big influence on me at early age.

Little Thunder: What is your first experience of making art?

Wheeler: First grade. I was so enamored with that ability that I worked at it. I 9:00worked at eye-hand coordination from the first grade on. By the time we got third and fourth grade, I was pretty accomplished. Then when we moved away from Montana and I didn't have Sammy to compete with, I became the class artist. I would get to do backdrops for plays. I would get to paint on the windows. I got that self-esteem of being the one that was good, would be called on. In high school, I would do the annuals, do the drawings in the annuals. It became an identity for me, and it was really, really important to me. Always was, from the first grade on. It was what I knew I wanted to do.

Little Thunder: Did you do any three-dimensional work during that period, too, or were you--.

Wheeler: Yes, as all students in school, they give you everything to work on. 10:00Then when I was working on my undergraduate degree, I really went into sculpture, and that was most of my emphasis at that level. I loved clay, but I loved metal more. I had gravitated, by the time I had graduated with my undergraduate degree, to welding. I was doing metal pieces. In fact, I won First Place [in sculptures] at Philbrook in their national show in a welded sculpture piece. That's a good story because it was 1975, I believe, and I had just graduated, and I'd just finished this piece. It was a dancing warrior with rattles in his hands. I took it to Philbrook, and you get in line when you're putting your work in for jury. Well, right in front of me was Charlie Pratt with 11:00his beautiful stalk of corn coming out of a piece of granite or marble and going up, and there was turquoise.

I thought, "What am I doing here? What am I doing here? I don't need to be here," because I'd just gotten out of school. He won Best of Show. I won First Place. I was, "Oh, my gosh!" That was great. That was what I was wanting to do was get an acetylene torch and do sculpture. That was my love for a while, but I had to teach. I got a teaching degree. I was teaching in a wonderful situation. I student-taught there, and when they hired me, it was only part-time. I would go into the classrooms in the morning and watch the three men teach. Then I would repeat what they had taught that afternoon. Their schedule was so busy 12:00that I was getting the overflow of students, but they wanted the same information going to the students. I did that for one year.

Then these three men that were teaching (they were just great) said, "We need to come up with something else. This isn't fair to you," but it was fair. It was fair because it gave me the best education I ever had. They were excellent teachers, and to be able to go in and watch their techniques and what they were doing-- It was in ceramics, it was in sculpture, and in painting and drawing. I was doing what they were doing, who were seasoned teachers. It was the best education I got. After a year of that, they then wanted me to come up with something we didn't have, so I went back to school to take jewelry. I was going to introduce jewelry, but that's where I fell in love with the weaving and the textiles. In the master's program is where I started weaving. I taught a course called Fiber Metal. As I was learning at school, I was also teaching at the high 13:00school. That was, like I said, one of the best educations, trying to learn and teach at the same time.

Little Thunder: Now, you were teaching, watching the three men, and then teaching in what school system at that point?

Wheeler: Joplin.

Little Thunder: At Joplin.

Wheeler: At that time Joplin, Missouri, had two high schools, and I was at Parkwood. It was just--we rivaled most colleges. Those men were such experts in their field. It was a great place to begin teaching and learning.

Little Thunder: Did I read that you also attended IAIA [Institute of American Indian Arts] for a bit of high school or not?

Wheeler: No.

Little Thunder: Okay.

Wheeler: No.

Little Thunder: All your high school happened in--.

Wheeler: Tahlequah. No, I didn't know about IAIA.


Little Thunder: Did you immediately go from high school to college? Is that right?

Wheeler: No, no. I married. Glen, my husband, who was from Tahlequah, went to Northeastern [State University] and was in college there. We married, and we had children, so I was a stay-at-home mom. When we left Tahlequah and he graduated, we went to the Navajo, and we were at Leupp Boarding School on the Navajo Reservation where he was a teacher. I had a two-year-old and a three-year-old. I started taking courses at NAU, Northern Arizona University, in Flagstaff. There was a group from our school would drive to Flagstaff twice a week and take courses. I started working on college courses then. Then I got hepatitis and was very ill. After I was out of quarantine, they flew me back home, and Glen asked 15:00for a transfer.

We transferred back, then, to Seneca Indian School at Wyandotte, Oklahoma. I got well enough and everything that I started going to NEO, Northeastern Oklahoma, and I got an associate's degree from there. Several years went by, and we moved to Seneca, Missouri. I started going to Missouri Southern [State University], so I've been to local schools wherever we lived. I picked up hours, and it took me ten years to get my undergraduate degree. Then I taught and then went to get the master's. I think I was twenty-three when I started, and when I finished the master's I was thirty-five. (Laughs) Twelve years to get that education.

Little Thunder: Really some great, like you said, bits and pieces from all these wonderful places.


Wheeler: Being around different instructors, too, and different college levels is wonderful because you get a variety. You're not at one place under one instructor, learning his style only. It was a great education.

Little Thunder: Did you also study under Margaret Schick?

Wheeler: Marjorie Schick? Marjorie was my main inspiration, I said, for where I am today. When I went over to take jewelry--she's a noted jeweler, a worldwide noted jeweler. Books are out on Marjorie. I went over to take the jewelry because we thought that's what we wanted to teach. It was okay, but I just didn't have an affinity to jewelry. She had inherited a textile program. The professor before her taught textiles and jewelry. She knew nothing about the textiles but knew design. Excellent teacher, great motivator. As a student 17:00watching her--. She lived in a little town in the Midwest, Pittsburg, Kansas, but she was known all over the world. She would get her work out there. She made us get our work out there while we were with her. We were entering shows while we were working with her. Plus, she'd be at the Whitney Museum [of American Art] doing something while I was student of hers. She was also the American jeweler who was asked to go when the Winter Olympics were in Norway.

I didn't even know they did this, but they have an artist come. They set them up in a studio, and they produce work during a two-week period of time at the Olympics. Marjorie did that while I was associated with her. She was a great person to say, "You can live anywhere, but you can get your work out there. You don't have to live in New York or Los Angeles or Santa Fe." I'm sort of a 18:00small-town girl anyway. That didn't appeal to me, and I immediately--. She had us put portfolios together and the importance of a portfolio and making introductions. Through her, as soon as I graduated, I had a portfolio together. I went to every major Indian museum that I could and presented my portfolio. That's where my career started. I always feel like I owe Marjorie that push that I don't know if a lot of people get when they go to college. It's just so important to be around a dynamic person that is doing it, and you see them doing it.

Little Thunder: And your portfolio at that point would have contained some sculpture as well as weaving?

Wheeler: Mostly by that time, I was really focusing on the weaving. That's what I was presenting. I had stopped doing the sculpture. I never did buy the acetylene torch. (Laughs) Never set up that studio. It was mostly textiles that 19:00I was showing.

Little Thunder: When and how did you acquire your first loom?

Wheeler: When I was in school with Marjorie, all of my things were off-loom weavings. My husband and I like to build houses, and our first house we built was in 1970. It had beams in the ceiling. That was shag-carpet era. I wanted a big loom, so I put great big hooks up in the ceiling, and hooks down in the shag rug. Put poles through that and strung my work from floor to ceiling. That was the loom I worked on most. I would string warps up, turn a stool upside down. Anyplace I could find two rigid poles, I could string a warp up. That was my main thing I was doing through school. One of the pieces that I showed early on 20:00at Philbrook that was textiles because I had left the sculpture, and this would have been like 1977, '78--.

Little Thunder: For the Indian Annual?

Wheeler: Yes, for the Indian Annual. I got a piece in that was woven. It was my first loom, but I really bought it for my daughter. It was an S&H Green Stamp, little, two-harness child's loom, and I did a piece on it that I got into Philbrook. (Laughter)

Little Thunder: So it's not the loom that makes the weaving, is it?

Wheeler: No, no, not necessarily because I'd woven different strips and then put them together and padded them and beaded and did all these things to it. I went to War Eagle for my serious first loom. It is a craft fair in Arkansas. I think it's near Rogers, Arkansas. It's on Beaver Lake. I saw a beautiful loom there. 21:00Thomas Bangert was the man who had made it, and he lived in Eureka Springs. All of the wood he was using was walnut that they'd cleared out of Beaver Lake before they flooded the lake. It was all native walnut. I always talk about it because Native Americans believe the tools they use need to be beautiful and that imbues the fabrics that I am making if I have a beautiful loom. So Thomas built my first loom. It is with me. It's down in Sulphur at my studio now. It's sort of a showcase loom, really, because it's all pegged, put together, more primitive looking than my later looms. It is a countermarch which is a more difficult loom to string up and to weave on. It's just a wonderful loom, so that was the first loom that I acquired. That would have been, like, 1979, 1980.


Little Thunder: After a number of years of teaching, you mentioned that your husband was able to support you and you decided to go full-time. Sometimes artists will start showing without opening a business. Were you already thinking in terms of, "I'm going to open a business to do this"?

Wheeler: I don't know. Mahota was my great-great-great-grandmother that came with Removal with the Chickasaws. She was Chickasaw. Along the line, I knew that I wanted a business name, and that's what I wanted. I wanted it to be her name because I wanted all my work to reflect my heritage and be Native American. I was simulating bead work and ribbon work and feather work in the loom structure, the weaving itself. I must have wanted to have it as a business, per se, but I 23:00never wanted, like, a storefront. I always knew I would have to go away from where I lived to show my work to sell it. I didn't want my work hanging on hangers. I wanted it on the body. I wanted the movement of it. That's why I went to the museums.

I was looking for fashion shows. [I wanted my work on humans, not hangers]. I really resisted going into the Indian markets where I would have a rack of clothing hanging. Gilcrease was one of the museums I took my portfolio to, and I did a fashion show for them. That was wonderful. I got into the Wheelwright [Museum of the American Indian] with their yearly fashion shows that they did. The Heard Museum put me in a show that was called Native Art To Wear. It was on a mannequin, and it was displayed for six months. From me going out to those 24:00museums with that portfolio, I got a show at each place I went. One of the first shows, one-woman shows I had, was at Anadarko at the--

Little Thunder: Southern Plains [Indian] Museum?

Wheeler: --Southern Plains Museum, yes. That was the first one-woman show I had, and everything was up and on display. I wasn't hanging racks, selling like that. Then through that, and it was through the Wheelwright Museum, Rowena Dickerson was there at the Wheelwright Museum. They were doing the fashion show, so I met her through that when I was doing the fashion shows with them. But they were also doing other fashion shows, and they would provide the models and everything. I know we went to Penn State one time and did a Women of Color fashion show, so Rowena and I became very good friends. When she left the 25:00museum, she got on at the Inn of the Anasazi in Santa Fe. I don't know what her title was. It was more than a concierge in that when people came in, she would plan tours of Indian country for them and would put on events there in the hotel. I became one of the Twelve Days of Christmas.

To go back even further than that, they were building the hotel. The Zimmer group out of Dallas were the ones that were putting the hotel together and going to manage it. They wanted it to be a holistic hotel and that they were really teaching about Indians. For the first night before they opened, they were having the architects and the bankers and everybody come in. They had a speaker that 26:00was coming. That was going to be the opening before the official public opening. The speaker they had hired got ill, like, a day or two before, three days before. She called me two days before and said, "Can you come do a fashion show?" I said, "Well, sure." I arrived in Santa Fe; I think it was a Thursday night. She had all the models ready. We placed that. The next day she had hair and makeup. Ray Tracey was our jeweler. We did a fashion show for them, and Zimmer loved it.

The other wonderful thing with that, it was artists that were my models, some of them. Emmi Whitehorse. Just wonderful. Wives of artists. It went over so well, and they wanted me then to be a part of the hotel. That's why I could go down. I 27:00could become one of the Twelve Days of Christmas with a presentation and a lecture about clothing and Indian clothing and do a little fashion show. I also would go out during market, and they would give me a fashion show in the hotel dining room. Then I would have a trunk show in [their library and see clients in] my room. I was not down in the market, but I was there for several years doing that because I was still resisting being in the market. I still wanted clothes on the body, but I was also taking commissions. Being in Santa Fe was the most lucrative place for me to be. There were a lot of commissions, and weaving is slow. I became almost two years behind. I knew I had to make a change and I had to figure it out some way.

I quit taking commissions, finished every one that I had promised I'd have something for. Eventually, people were leaving the hotel after, like, five years, so it was time for me to move on from that. I finally gave up then 28:00because I knew I needed to be in Santa Fe and start applying for the Indian Market and got into that. That became what I was doing was the Indian markets. I think I did around seven Indian markets: the Heard, the Eiteljorg [Museum of American Indians and Western Art], National Museum of the American Indian, and of course the Chickasaw SEASAM [Southeastern Art Show and Market], Tulsa, the Cherokee [Art Market], and Red Earth. I realized finally, "Okay, you've got to hang them on a rack. This is the best way to do it," (Laughter) and I gave up on the fashion shows. Long, round-about story for your question, that's how it all happened.

Little Thunder: Wow! I'm really impressed that you, on your own initiative, put together the portfolio, went to visit the museums. I'm friends with Phyllis Fife, and there were a couple of Native fashion lines out there but not a lot. 29:00For a museum to just, having seen your portfolio, be ready to commit to a fashion show is very interesting.

Wheeler: Every one that I went to--the first was Gilcrease, then the Wheelwright in Santa Fe, the Heard Museum in Phoenix. I for some reason didn't go to Philbrook. I don't know why I didn't go to--. Southern Plains. Those were the ones that I targeted, that I would visit. I called and made appointments and went in and showed my portfolio, and they all placed. It was really wonderful. I was very fortunate, very fortunate. I knew through education that I needed to look good in that portfolio. I would have samples of the cloth and maybe be wearing one of my garments so they could see the quality. It just was the right thing for me at the right time.

Little Thunder: What was the biggest surprise in doing the museum fashion shows?


Wheeler: No sales. I thought it was going to be a place where I could really, you know--people come for the entertainment more than--. I sold very few things through fashion shows. It's more the entertainment. They're so exciting, and they're so much fun, and I loved doing them. I loved seeing--.

Little Thunder: They're pieces of theater.

Wheeler: Exactly, so I loved the whole idea of it, but, again, there were just no sales from fashion shows for me. The ones in Santa Fe were gorgeous. Sometimes they'd be in artists' studios, set up, and they'd get the models that were wonderful. Also, I got photographs of, like, Jody Naranjo, famous artist now, when she was a teenager in one of my outfits. I was meeting people through the fashion shows, too, that were great because the models out there mostly were 31:00artists that you were meeting.

Little Thunder: You used a word that struck me because you used the word "action." You were interested in the action of your clothing. Sometimes you will hear "movement."

Wheeler: Right.

Little Thunder: I wonder if you could explain that for us.

Wheeler: To see fabric moving in the air, to me, is so exciting. I do a series--I still do some sculpture. I do a series of poles that I have fabric hanging off of. My favorite are called the Wind People. They are outside. I have one at my home. Polypropylene is the [yarn] I use, which is an indoor/outdoor carpet yarn. Just the other day, I was standing watching his fringe, the wind was blowing fringe, and the cloth moving. That is exciting to me. Even in my sculpture, I used to try to--it looked like it was blowing. It's been a 32:00fascination with me to see the movement of fabric and the folds of fabric. It's just something I love.

Little Thunder: What about competitive shows? What was your first major award?

Wheeler: Competitive shows and first major award--.

Little Thunder: That would've been Philbrook, I guess, but possibly one for fashion?

Wheeler: Yeah, for the fashions. One of the educations for me personally was I loved doing the big pieces with headdresses and things like that. I would enter them, and I wasn't getting any awards. These were some pieces that museums were looking at, but in Indian market competition, they were not getting any attention. Then about eight years ago, I became associated with the Chickasaws. 33:00Because I grew up around Plains tribes mostly, I loved the buckskin, I loved the beading, I loved Woodland style with theirs, but I had just never really looked at Southeastern clothing. When I was down there, I thought, "Okay, I am now associated with my tribe for the first time. I need to look at our history and our clothing." I started going back through photographs and looking in the Chickasaw journal, their history journal.

I found two boys in coats that have the real turned-back lapels, large lapels coming back, shawl collar, almost. They called them Chickasaw hunting coats. I thought, "Oh, I could--." So for the Heard Museum, (this is probably maybe ten years ago, I'm not sure) I did a Chickasaw hunting coat in red, and I did the 34:00turban-style hat. I had the black feathers on top like I'd seen from drawings and illustrations. Had a sash, and I did a pouch to match. I beat the Navajo rugs. I won Best of Class in the textiles. It came home to me. "Okay, this was my tribe. This is coming through me. It's a not a big owl or wolf headdress. That's good." All at once, I realized the judges were looking for something that represented you through your tribe. When I realized that, I started winning awards. Isn't that amazing, that it comes from that?

Little Thunder: It is.

Wheeler: I always felt very good about that. That was probably one of the biggest things, was actually winning over a Navajo rug. I never thought I could ever do that.

Little Thunder: Especially from the weaving perspective.

Wheeler: Yes, yes, yeah, but it was a Chickasaw hunting coat that did it. 35:00(Laughter) Yes.

Little Thunder: What's the best business advice you got starting out?

Wheeler: Well, the portfolios, of course, for one, and to keep a record. Every show--we started out very early on the master's program. Every show you're in, get the brochure, keep a postcard if it goes out, if there's any photos, hold onto those, keep them together, and then you can put your portfolio together. If you don't keep the materials, you're not going to have a record of that. That's what you need: verification that you were in that show, that you won that award. Always keep that so that you have it for your portfolio. In the beginning, that was the best. The other thing, when I lecture and I talk to people about starting their own business and all, is photographs because so often we are juried by photographs. I learned that very well from Marjorie, also. This was 36:00the early '80s. I was at Boulder at a conference. I went to a lot of conferences on textiles and weaving to see what other people were doing, just finding out what the fiber world was because it was new to me when I started in '77, I think, when I finished my master's, '78, maybe.

I was just grasping for anything to see what the world was about in fibers, and going to a lot of conferences when I'd find them. I was sitting by a woman. I knew photography was important, and I had taken two seminars by two different established artists at Boulder. You could go in and speak to them at this conference ahead of time. You set up that this is what you want to do. They set 37:00a schedule up, and you got thirty minutes with this famous--. It was Randall Darwall, at that time, who I had a conference with then. Bring your portfolio in, and they go over the portfolio, and they talk to you. I thought, "I would love that," so I did that. He had seen my work in a little fashion show the night before where we were wearing our own clothes. It was real informal. He said to me, "I've seen your work. Your work is good. These photos don't show it."

I was having my photographs done by a professional photographer in Joplin, Missouri, that I just thought the world of. It was a good friend. One of my friends was the model, and I thought they were great photographs. That was his comment. Then another time, I had the same thing was going on with another artist. She said the same thing, and this was within a month or two, different 38:00conference. "Your work is good, but your photographs don't show it." I hadn't been getting in any shows with those photographs. At one of the conferences, I'm sitting next to a woman who was from Chicago, the textile--what was the name? It was a store, a famous store, and she had these beautiful postcards on her desk beside me. I said, "Where did you have those done?" She said, "They were done in Chicago."

She told me the name of the photographer. Soon as I got home, I called that photographer. His receptionist tried to discourage me. She said, "It's very expensive." I said, "I know, but I want to do this." I had taken everything--I had only taught ten years in public school, and I had taken all that money and put it in the bank. It was what was going to get me started, so I had a little 39:00bit of cash set aside for that. They made me the appointment. I shipped five outfits up there. They told me to bring what jewelry I could. I flew to Chicago in the morning and met with the photographer. There were six people working on that photoshoot, and I was there all day. When I left in the evening, I had transparencies in one day. The first thing that I happened was I made the front cover with one of his photographs of Shuttle Spindle and Dyepot [Magazine], which is Handweavers Guild of America--

Little Thunder: Wow.

Wheeler: --on the same piece that I'd had the Joplin model use. That's still an iconic photograph that everybody that sees me remembers that photograph that's a weaver. "Oh, that--." The second thing that happened with those photographs--I 40:00got lots of photos of each outfit but only five outfits. The second thing that happened is with the show that was at the Heard Museum. It was an exhibit. Chester Freeman called me, and he was a freelance writer out of New York, and he had seen that. He was going to be writing for an Australian journal. He wanted me to send him photos, and he interviewed me over the phone. He liked the interview, and he liked the photos, so he submitted to Ornament Magazine an article on me. Ornament's a really nice magazine. Ornament had another fiber artist that was going to go on. We were put back, like, eight or nine months before they would do the article on me that Chester had written, but when they saw my photographs, we went in within two months.


They considered giving me the cover of it, but I got a full page inside. That's what good photography will do for you. If you're going into business, pay for it. It took three years of me teaching. It was a third of the nest egg I had put back. It's the best money I ever spent. If I have any advice for anybody and you're doing competitions or you want to be in magazines or anything like that, your photography has to be professional, and you need to pay for it. Now I know what I'm looking for. I watched him. I had a stylist; there was a camera assistant; there was the photographer. I found out that he was taking Polaroids at that time, and he would fold them up, and he would show me. "Does this look like something you would want?" I'd say, "Yes." He'd take a roll of film, hand it to somebody that disappeared I didn't know. They were taking it and having it 42:00developed. That was before all this instant cameras like we've got today.

Little Thunder: Right.

Wheeler: Developing it, he was seeing it before he did his final shots of how he could adjust light, how he could do this, what he could do this. It was a professional model, a stylist. They brought out their own Indian jewelry. The stylist was suggesting we do things that I would never have thought of. If there was wrinkle, the stylist would take it off of her, go press it, put it back on. I learned, and I tried to watch everything and learn, "This is what we need." Now I do have a great photographer that is local, but I'm still, I'm not good. I don't want to bother someone to take it off, "That's got a wrinkle." I'll try to think, "Well, it won't show," or something. (Laughter) That was probably the greatest education, too, was actually being in a major photoshoot.

Little Thunder: Thank you for sharing that. It's a great story. Can you talk about a highlight or two from your experiences? I think you got a fellowship at 43:00the National Museum of the American Indian.

Wheeler: Yes, yes. Atlatl and the National Museum of the American Indian were offering these fellowships. The first time I entered it, I entered my poles, my Mahotans, I call them. They're tall poles because that's always fascinated me and it was the sculpture aspect. They had fiber on them that I'd been seeing. The Chippewas, I also heard, would put personal items and hang it off of a tree, and that would ward away impending dangers and all. So I loved that idea. That got turned down. Oh, no, I'm sorry. That's the wrong story. My first proposal, I'd been to China. It was real small. There were only nine people on the tour, and we were all weavers, mostly. We were up in the mountains in Southwest China 44:00and learned that it was much like the Native Americans in that they had been taken to a certain area. We were with the Miao tribe, and we would go into their villages and look at their fiber works.

We were there also to watch the silk. There were silkworms that did felting. We missed it, but we got to see the product. We were just a little early when we went. I just could not get over when we'd go into these villages how similar it was to Native Americans. Like in Montana, grass whistling with the Blackfeet was something when I was growing up. I hadn't heard it probably in forty years. The Chinese, they came out, and they were whistling with the grass, and the dances, the round dances and all. I came back, and my first proposal was the 45:00similarities between ancient tribes and people that had been moved. I got turned down for that one. That's the other thing: don't quit. Always try again. The next time that I applied, I applied for the poles, and I used the Chickasaw pole as the story of it and my interest in it. Also--

Little Thunder: Maybe you should quickly just explain the story.

Wheeler: Oh, the Chickasaws, there were two groups of people, two brothers. Their people were behind them. They would take this pole, and at night they would put the pole into the ground. In the morning, whichever way the pole was leaning, was the way they would go to find their homelands. There was an 46:00argument over the pole, which way it was really leaning. That's when the two tribes, they broke up, and one became the Choctaw, and one became the Chickasaw. That's an ancient story that we have. I had written that. I'd also written about the Chippewas putting personal items on a pole, impending danger. The Mandan poles have things, probably hides, off of them. The whole thing of fabric coming off of a pole is really interesting to me. I got accepted for that one. They called me and said there are no poles to research. The last one they had had been at the Peabody [Museum], and it was repatriated, so could I choose another subject.

Then I went with the fabric of the Mississippians, the textiles of the Mississippians which was a much wiser choice for me, really. That's what I got the fellowship on. This was before the museum had been built in Washington, DC, 47:00so I was really headquartered out of New York. You got to structure your own program, and then they helped put it together. In that time I was in New York, we went to the Brooklyn Museum. No textiles there, but I got to see pipes and wonderful things that were from the Mississippian period. Then I took a train up to Rochester, New York, the New York State Museum. Or is it in Albany? Anyway, I took the train up the river and went to the New York State Museum, and Penelope Drooker is there. Penelope wrote the book on Mississippian textiles, and I had met her through conferences way before she had written the book. In fact, she was working on her master's, the paper, the doctorate, and had sent me her copies of that before she had written the book.


I went up to see her to visit with her, go over different things on Mississippian textiles. The other place I went was the Peabody. I flew into Boston from New York. I couldn't get into the Peabody Proper because there was a conference going on and that curator wouldn't let me down unless she was there. But Andover would, so I went on up to Andover and went through there. They had really some remarkable effigy pottery and things. It was a great experience there. Going to the museums and also in New York, American History Museum, and looking at their artifacts, it was just wonderful. Finally, we went down to Washington, DC, for the last part, (I think it's a two week program at that time) and got to go out to the [Capital] Research Center, the CRC. I would walk 49:00across to the National History Museum to look at the Spiro artifacts there because our museum,

the big trucks were coming in and they were cleaning and cataloging and everything.

There was really nothing for me to see at the National Museum of American Indian, but I could use the Smithsonian, so I did that while I was down there. That's where I saw the best representatives of the textiles of the Mississippians, and they were all from Spiro Mounds. Wonderful, wonderful experience of getting to get into the basements of these museums and look in drawers and behind cabinets. I was fortunate enough--after the museum had been built, they asked all of their fellowship people back to go through the new museum, so I got to go back for another visit and be in Washington, DC. I had 50:00three days then to go through the exhibits and the textiles. I recommend it to everybody, to apply and keep applying until you get it because the research is just invaluable.

Little Thunder: You've also taught, you've taught a workshop, I read, in the United Kingdom?

Wheeler: Yes, one of the great things about fibers that I learned when I first started in the late '70s is we have a networking that's wonderful. You have a lot of local guilds. In the past, right now I'm a member. My active guild is the Tulsa [Hand]weavers Guild. It's an excellent guild. There's the four-state guild in Rogers, Arkansas. I've attended them. Springfield, Missouri, has a guild. I've also been a member of the Saint Louis Weavers Guild. There's weaving guilds 51:00all over in little towns. Crowder College had a weaving guild in Neosho, Missouri, which is just twenty miles from Joplin. You start out with these little groups. Then I found Missouri Fiber Artists which is not just weaving. It's all fiber art. I started attending those in the early '80s, conferences with them, once a year. The people I met at that time, we have grown such good friends, and we've done so many shows together.

We're doing another show now in Ardmore, Oklahoma. I'm bringing Missouri artists. (Laughter) We're having a textile show at the Goddard Center next September. I think it opens September 8. I curated those shows. From that connection early on, we were all teachers, but we all pursued our crafts. The 52:00five women I have are nationally known artists now in their fields, all textiles but not clothing like I was doing. From that, there's the Midwest Weavers Guild that has a conference every other year, and I became active in that. They were at Lawrence, Kansas, one of the first times I showed my work in a fashion show. Then from there, from the Midwest, all the differences, the Intermountain Weavers. There's a California--. There's these weaving organizations all over.

Then every other year from that is Convergence, the international weaving conference where people come from all over the world. It's put on by the Handweavers Guild of America. I slowly worked myself up from little local guilds to state organizations, to a Midwestern organization, then into a national. I think without that networking, my career wouldn't have taken off in the weaving 53:00world as much. It's very different from what I've done in the Indian world. My clothing has stayed the same, and I've been sort of the token Indian in those shows. It was a whole different group of friends in the weaving world, teaching and doing the conferences. There's one woman in Scotland named Belinda Rose, and she started coming to my lectures that I would be doing at Convergence. Others from England were taking my workshops, and they would go back and talk about me, so I've been asked back.

I think I've taught five or six workshops now in England and Scotland. I even spoke at the Battleby Fair, which was wonderful, outside Edinburgh, which was wonderful because they're fascinated by Native American. It's just been a wonderful, wonderful--. In some ways I'm so glad I got out of painting and 54:00sculpture and took this on because it's a path that a lot of other artists hadn't taken and it's been a unique--. At one time, (I don't know if it's true today) I was the only Native American having a handwoven line of clothing. I had my own little niche. It's been wonderful. It's really been wonderful. It's all chance. It's all luck. It's just being at the right place at the right time but also using what you're learning and going forward. The networking is wonderful through the weaving world, textiles.

Little Thunder: Yeah, it sounds like such a rich world. You also teach for the Chickasaw Summer Academy and at the ARTtesian Gallery in Sulphur. What's valuable about that for you?


Wheeler: Well, they're two very separate things. Chickasaws have the Chickasaw Arts Academy. I love teaching. I love teenagers. I've been out of teaching since--1984 is when I quit teaching high school, so when I had a chance and I was asked to teach at the Academy, I just snapped it up. I teach textiles. You're only allowed eight students, so you get very intensive time with the students. You're with them from eight in the morning until five in the evening. You have lunch with them. It's intensive. In that two-week period, we produce an ensemble for a fashion show. They have to have a garment and accessories to go with it that are all textiles. We've done some weaving; we've done discharge; we've done dyeing. I have a garment maker, which is a computer program where we can create the patterns. I'm always searching. But these students, when you get 56:00that much time and individual time with the students, you can really see the development.

Jay Fife just came by to see me yesterday. He won the scholarship that I had proposed, that one to two of my students each year be given a scholarship to Fashion Institute of Technology in New York City. We've done it for four years now. That's the other thing is to see the growth of these students when they can go into New York, go into classes with students from all over the world, because there are students there from everywhere in these high school classes. So far, every student I've taken has excelled. They realize that they can compete. They're viable on that level. It gives confidence you couldn't believe. Ryan Jordan, who was with me from the time she was thirteen to last year when she was eighteen, is now at North Texas State University in their fashion program. It's 57:00just so rewarding to be able to be part of a program that can offer that and to see these students. Like Jay, this was my second year this past summer to have Jay in class, and in that one year to see his growth--.

That's the other thing. When they are thirteen to fourteen, or fourteen to fifteen, you see the maturing as adults, also, and that's just so rich. Jay's work this year, I thought, was outstanding. His whole piece had to do with an Indian living in a white world. It has to be a garment, and I want them to do something that's cultural. He took a tuxedo and cut it in half and then put a white shirt on this side. Then he took a Creek design, it was on display out here the other day. He cut little triangles out. If you'll look up close, he's 58:00machine stitched around, perfectly around, creating this design on this white shirt that's all Creek that's going into the back of the shirt, and then this black tuxedo. Then he's done an arm band with designs that are all stitched on, and also a little thing that went in the pocket. To be able to see someone that knows that there's going to be struggle living in this white world and keeping your Indian identity, I thought it was one of the strongest pieces, plus his behavior in the classroom and all.

He's going to New York in June. I take them to the Costume Institute at the Metropolitan; there's always a wonderful show there. We got to a Broadway show that costumes are the main thing. Try to go down to the National Museum of the American Indian in Lower Manhattan and just expose them to art in a big city. It's been really a great program. That was all through the Chickasaws and 59:00Chickasaw Arts Academy. Then the ARTesian, when they built the Artesian Hotel, they bought an old building across the street and redid it. It's the ARTesian Gallery and Studios. They have studio space for artists in there to work. I hopped on that really quick. (Laughter) In fact, I think I moved my loom in before I was told I could. They were having an intertribal council meeting at the hotel for the first time. We hadn't even opened the galleries yet, but my room was really completed and all. I went in and put a rug and put a loom up when nobody was around so that they could see that there was going to be artwork going on in that studio. I was never called out on it.

I thought I possibly could be because I didn't have a hard hat on when I was doing that. Now I've had the studio open for a year. We opened last January. In 60:00September, I started accepting students and teaching. I can take six students. My dream is to create a co-op, a Chickasaw [weaving] co-op, and it'll be Mahota Studios at the ARTesian. We're doing housewares. I've moved away from fashion. I won't be doing clothing. I'll always have some pieces, and I'll work them because that's my love, but the main thing is rugs, table runners, placemats, things for the home, your hand towels. We've been talking lately, and this is what I am so thrilled about. I have five students, and nobody wants to leave. They want to stay, and they're coming to me with ideas of what we could have there. That's what I want. I want this to be a co-op where I'll teach the 61:00weaving, but I also want ideas coming in. We'll have ruanas and shawls and ponchos. Unstructured clothing, we decided would be good to have.

At this point since September, which that means, what, five or six months, I am very encouraged that this possibly will make it. One of my students the other day brought a magazine that's called Selvedge. It's a gorgeous textile magazine that comes from Europe. Phyllis said, "We need to be doing this." She said, "We need to become a community," and I thought, "Yes, this is what I want. I want us to be very high in Native American things." The Smithsonian has talked to me, but you've got to be a production company to be able to do that. I would love in ten years to be able to do that, that museum gift shops will be carrying the 62:00Mahota Studios at the ARTesian housewares. That would be a wonderful thing. That would be a wonderful thing. That is our goal at the moment. That's what I've abandoned everything else to put--that's the main thing in my life now, and it's being very rewarding, very rewarding. [We now have twelve weavers.]

Little Thunder: You're down there two weeks out of each month?

Wheeler: I'm there the last two weeks of the month. We also have a one-day workshop every month in textiles, something that's going on. It was Inkle weaving last month. We've done a blouse workshop, making a handmade blouse and stamping in Southeastern. I have a sewing expert that's going to come up and do manipulation of fabric that you can put into your clothing or into your housewares, whatever. She's going to be teaching that, I believe, in April. I had my friends from Missouri--that's been one of my problems. Because I've lived 63:00in Missouri I know all the Missouri artists. I'm trying to learn Oklahoma textile artists that we can start bringing in also so that we're bringing experts in. Right now I'm teaching a lot of the workshops, but I would like to bring a textile person in each month that's different so we'll get new ideas into the studio. It's exciting. It's fun.

Little Thunder: Sounds wonderful. We're going to segue a little bit into some techniques, a little more technical discussion, and then we'll be finishing up. I was wondering how important sketching is to your work?

Wheeler: I learned, of course, when I was undergraduate, you keep a sketchbook for everything, and I still do. I have my sketchbooks. When I go to a museum, I'm constantly sketching. Usually it's tribal costumes that I'm seeing. I was probably better at it the first twenty years because I've been doing this for 64:00forty years, keeping sketches, and I go back to those. It might be two to three to four years before I'll go back and see something, but I continually go back. They're my diaries. Now I keep them at each loom. As I'm weaving, I keep all my records in them, and I have to draw out--. My drawing skills have gone down the tubes because I don't keep it up like I used to, but I think it's so important to have those sketchbooks. They're my diaries of what I've done, and I keep my old ones. Now I'm going back and looking at those ideas when I wasn't that great of a weaver, when I was starting out, thinking, "Oh, I could redo that now." I'd like to take my first couple of years and go back and review and redo some of the things because I have a lot of sketches in my first books, not as many as I do now. Sketching is important. I've even thought about going back and taking a 65:00class like I used to do.

Little Thunder: What's one of the more unusual fibers that you've used?

Wheeler: My basic fibers are cottons and silk wool have been the two basic ones. I have two different companies I order from because I know their quality is good. When Tencel started being a big thing, I ordered the Tencel for a while. I love the drape of it, I love the sheen, I love the iridescence I can get with it, but I didn't like the longevity of it. I could see it start fuzzing, so I eliminated it and quit using it. I've never used the bamboo. After the Tencel, I've sort of stayed away with fibers because when you're selling a product, you want to know how it's going to last. When I sell something, I have people coming back that have had a cotton blouse for ten or fifteen years and it still looks 66:00good. If I don't know the fibers, I'm scared to use them. The only newest one I have used is a Belgian flax that I found. It's a linen, but they call it Belgian flax.

I got it when I was working on the [Chickasaw production] Lowak [Shoppala'] costumes because I was wanting a plant fiber that was a little bit thicker and give that more ancient look to the fabrics. I just fell in love with working with it. It's hard to work with in that you have to keep it damp. I have to keep a spray bottle and damp it, or it'll break. The finished product is so great, and the linen will last forever. It'll only get better as you wash it and iron it and age. I love that. I used buffalo. That's a whole different story. That's for a workshop. I don't weave with it that much, but I taught ancient fiber workshop. I would go out and get the buffalo hide, and I found a man then who 67:00would pull it. It's better to pull it than shear it off. He would hang it and let it ripen, and then he would pull and separate the stiffer fibers from the softer. Then [I would send it to be] cleaned. Then a friend of mine in Tulsa, Jeannine Glaves, would spin it for me.

I have used that, but I've used it in workshops. We do sort of a medicine bundle out of it, like the Osage medicine bundles. That's in a workshop that I do. It's a five-day workshop, and the first day is the history of cotton through Native American eyes. The second day is usually the medicine bundle. The third day, I've forgotten. It's been quite a while since I've even taught this. I was taking from different places. We were going to do the corn shuck [mask] from the 68:00Northeast Coast, and then I was going to do cedar from the West Coast. Who am I leaving out? I'm leaving out one. I can't think. Cotton? Bast fibers, just the bast fibers. The bast fiber workshop. Five different fibers from five different tribes is what I was trying to do when I was teaching that workshop.

Little Thunder: Wow. How do you handle the tag on your clothing for your Mahota? Do you have a little tag on the inside?

Wheeler: Yes, yeah.

Little Thunder: Okay.

Wheeler: I have "Mahota Handwovens."

Little Thunder: Sometimes placing that is--.

Wheeler: No, I just do that. Now, on these newer pieces that I'm doing which are discharge, I've made a little stamp with "Mahota," and I put it with the discharge, put it on there.

Little Thunder: Right, I think we get to see one of those.

Wheeler: Yeah, that, I've been doing that. No, I have woven tags that I sew into 69:00each garment.

Little Thunder: What's your creative process, starting with how you get your ideas?

Wheeler: Research, research, research. Looking at books, looking at magazines. I'm very visual, so I'm always looking. That's where the sketchbooks come in. If you don't put an idea down, two days later you can't remember what it was you were doing. I try to keep notes on ideas. Like the piece I'm working on right now is the Chickasaw horse. It's for a show called Return from Exile: Removal, Relocation, and Resilience, that Southeastern arts group. It's supposed to be a traveling show. I just started reading all our Chickasaw journals about 70:00something that had been in our homelands that came with us that is prominent here that wasn't here before. I was having a hard time. I called LaDonna Brown and people within the tribe that are historians, trying to ask them for ideas, too.

She mentioned some of our myths that were brought that were taught, and stories and all, but nothing hit until finally there was a whole Chickasaw journal on the Chickasaw horse. The Chickasaw horse was renowned in the Southeast and was brought, thousands of them, brought to Indian Territory. But it fell apart when it came to the resilience because I don't see thousands of them here. Then I read that they were the grandfather of the quarter horse which is the big resilience. So I'm now doing a big headdress of a horse, and it's got beadwork on it and a big cape that I have that'll go with it for that piece for that 71:00show. That's what I try to do. I was doing a show in Minneapolis for Convergence, realized their state bird was the loon, so I started researching loons. Started getting every photograph of a loon, figuring out how on the loom I could do the markings of a loon, and did a big piece.

I try to see where I'm going to go, where the piece is going to be, how I can research for that piece, and then how I can do it on the loom, make the weaving work for it. I love coming up with ideas and figuring out how they're going to be done. I was just talking, and I said it wrong. Kachinas that were out here, I say Shalako Mana. I'm mispronouncing it, but it's a Hopi kachina with feathers. I had drawn the kachina in my sketchbook and I just kept looking at it, and I 72:00figured out how I could form a feather in my weave structure. I made that kachina, and it was shown in San Jose. Again, it's keeping sketches, keeping things, trying to figure out how you can make it work. That's the fun of it, if it works out. (Laughter) We're hoping this horse comes together.

Little Thunder: Right, I'm sure it will. Looking back over your career so far, what has been a fork in the road for you where you could have gone in one direction and you chose to go another?

Wheeler: Probably the meeting with the Chickasaws was one of them because I had already established myself in the weaving world. I was [in] most of their fashion shows, I was the end piece, the grand finale. I could always teach, and when you teach at those big conferences, that's where people are there that see you. Then you go out, and you teach all over the United States and, like I said, 73:00Europe and the British Isles. I was established. Going with the Chickasaws was entirely different, but it felt right. It felt like coming home. It's leaving something that's lucrative, that you're already established in. You could just float on, or taking on something that's really new, going back into the classroom which I hadn't done for thirty years, teaching students. I have not really taught weaving from scratch. I go into guilds and teach established weavers my style of weaving. Having to start teaching from scratch, again, I've really never taught new weavers how to weave. It's been scary, but I think it's been good for me. Like I said, I feel like I'm establishing something else that will go on with my name. I can establish the studio to be there long after I'm 74:00gone. That would be an accomplishment. That's what my goal is.

Little Thunder: What has been one of your career high points so far?

Wheeler: Of course, the Heard Show [in Phoenix] and Santa Fe, winning awards while you're there, that's always good. You know that you're established if you can win in Santa Fe, win an award, but having a one woman show, that was a real high point for me. Just being able to do what you love to do is probably the high point, of having a dream and following it and it's worked. I think very few people get that opportunity, so that's the high point. At this time in my career, it's just that I did it. (Laughter) I did it.


Little Thunder: How about one of your low points?

Wheeler: Oh, low points. Gosh, it seems like I've had very few low points. Low points is when you get ill and you can't--. Like, I had Rocky Mountain Spotted Tick Fever about three years ago. For eight months, I was down. No energy, couldn't work. Had to give up shows. Couldn't go to the Heard Market. Couldn't go to the Eiteljorg Market. Missed seeing friends. You begin to realize you're vulnerable. You might eat right, you might exercise, but you have no control of that that little bug that's going to bite you. That was a low point for me, is just no ambition. I was so tired I couldn't get up off the divan. It was also a fork in the road. It's where it made me really realize what I've got to do is get this workshop and leave a legacy if I can. That would have been the low 76:00point, just realizing, "Oh, I can be stopped." (Laughter)

Little Thunder: Is there anything else you'd like to talk about before we look at your clothing real quickly?

Wheeler: Oh, probably that I'm very, very fortunate to have married a man that would support me while I did my business. When you look at it, I am successful, very successful on paper, very successful on paper, but if I had to feed myself and I had to pay rent and I had to pay all the bills, I would've still been teaching school. My husband has stood behind me and believed in what I was doing. He's put the food in my mouth and the roof over my head and let me play. That's the biggest thing. It's why I'm here today is that I was given the opportunity to have someone take care of me. That's something else a lot of 77:00people don't get. (Laughter) I'm fortunate. I'm very fortunate, lucky, lucky.

Little Thunder: Well, we're going to pause and take a look at your work.

Wheeler: All right.

Little Thunder: Margaret, we're looking at one of your dresses here.

Wheeler: This is done with the Belgian flax. It's a fabric that I love. It's a bast fiber, and it really has a texture to it that I don't see in the wools.

Little Thunder: You can really see the texture.

Wheeler: Yeah. It is a piece that I had done, sort of like the primitive dress, Native American dress. All tribes had this style of dress with the poncho. It has the poncho over, and then there is a dress that's underneath that's very plain.

Little Thunder: It's gorgeous.

Wheeler: The poncho also has a design. I'm not sure it's showing in the camera, but it's all treadled pattern.

Little Thunder: You can see it.

Wheeler: There's a diamond shape that's real subtle in it. I love sometimes that real, real subtle--. I like that real subtle, not in-your-face design sometimes 78:00that you can pick up.

Little Thunder: And abalone shell colors, just the delicate, delicate--.

Wheeler: They've got soft pinks in them. It's become one of my favorite fibers to work with. It's a difficult fiber to work with, but I love the final product in it.

Little Thunder: It's just beautiful.

Wheeler: This is almost like a buckskin dress like that. I show it. I have one photograph that shows it with one of my Chickasaw hunting coats and the pouch that's made out of the same type of fabric.

Little Thunder: How neat.

Wheeler: It's sort of a man's outfit, and this was the female outfit.

Little Thunder: Right, you've got the little design going towards the hand there, too.

Wheeler: Right, and it's got twisted fringe that I've become sort of noted for. I twist a lot of fringe. That kind of fringe is more substantial. It won't wear out as quickly.

Little Thunder: Okay. How about this?


Wheeler: These are a new line of clothing that I'm doing. Since all the looms are in Sulphur, in Joplin I've got to have something to do when I go, so I'm doing a lot of handwork and embroidery. This is the Mississippian flying serpents that we find on pottery sometimes. They're sort of a symbol, and there's also a myth that goes with them. I'd called LaDonna Brown when I was working on the Return from Exile, trying to get ideas for that. She told me about the flying serpents and that her grandfather was telling her that story that had come from the homelands, but they were telling those same stories here and that he was up in one of the ponds near their house. It was this mythical creature. That has come with us over the years of keeping our stories. I decided not to do this as one of my big pieces, but I loved the idea, so this is a 80:00tribute to LaDonna Brown for suggesting that to me. It's on organic cotton that I'm getting. It's grown in Texas, so it's a very local product.

Little Thunder: Beautiful shade of blue. I love the way it hangs.

Wheeler: It's neat, these designs that are coming off the pottery from the Mississippians. To see so many artists using--you're seeing the potters use them now, the jewelers, shell carvings. We're really having a resurgence in the Southeastern arts that's so exciting. We're seeing our symbolism rather than so much of the Southeastern symbolism now.

Little Thunder: All right.

Wheeler: This is my version of a man's ribbon shirt. They've been a fairly good seller. It's woven ribbon rather than one that's attached. Then, the top I tried to sort of do ribbon techniques in the weave structure of it. I've done quite a 81:00few men's things. I do jackets, and I do these shirts. I have another shirt that I do that is not like the ribbon shirt. Men are harder sells, sometimes.

Little Thunder: And harder to size, I would think, in a way, too.

Wheeler: Yes, right. I have this one here at this show, and then I have one that's extra, extra large out there. It's in the Tencel. This one is a medium, but it's my version of the ribbon shirt. In it you can also see, if you look at the horizontal lines going through it, I'm sort of noted for the style of warping that I do. I use five threads when I'm warping, and I use generally different colors. All five, I might have two cones of one color and then variations so that I get this variated stripe. I refer to it like a painter that's painting. He doesn't take it straight out of the tube. He mixes color. 82:00The eye can visually mix, so with the yarns I try to do that in a painterly technique. I also sometimes will change a whole color. Like you see the stripe going through later, that's all in the warp. That is something I like to do is to bring my painting and my sculpting into the weaving world, those things that you learn.

Little Thunder: It's gorgeous. I'm going to try and get closer up on that. Oh, I see the five. It's wonderful. Thank you so much for your time today.

Wheeler: Oh, thank you.

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