Choctaw Artist Karen Clarkson
Over the past several years Karen Clarkson has been hard at work on creating a new collection of original art that highlights the major issues we still grapple with as Choctaws.
Mark your calendars! Her latest collection will be featured in a one-artist show opening Tuesday, January 9, 2018 in Flagstaff, Arizona at the Coconino Center for the Arts. The show will continue through February 10, during regular hours 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., with an opening reception on Saturday, January 13.
Her series A Choctaw Story of Land and Blood is based upon her own ancestors’ documents such as: photographs, birth certificates, land allotments, marriage certificates, Indian census records, commission interviews, and the Dawes Commission Rolls. Karen’s own father was the victim of the destructive assimilation policies pursued by the Department of Indian Affairs in the 1900s. She has first-hand knowledge of the grief and loss caused by adoption practices and estrangement from one’s own heritage.
Series #1: FORCED REMOVAL
Removal of the Choctaw from present day Mississippi occurred due to an incessant demand for Indian lands and the prevailing attitude, promoted by President Andrew Jackson, of the Indian as a “savage”. The Choctaw did not go willingly, but nevertheless, decided a promise of tribal sovereignty in their new lands would at least afford them some type of continuity. Approximately 17,000 Choctaw left their new homeland on the “Trail of Tears”. This was a grueling 500-mile journey, and an estimated one-third died along the way.
“And is it supposed that the wandering savage has a stronger attachment to his home than the settled, civilized Christian? Is it more afflicting to him to leave the graves of his fathers than it is to our brothers and children? Rightly considered, the policy of the General Government toward the red man is not only liberal, but generous. He is unwilling to submit to the laws of the States and mingle with their population. To save him from this alternative, or perhaps utter annihilation, the General Government kindly offers him a new home, and proposes to pay the whole expense of his removal and settlement.”
Citation: President Jackson’s Message to Congress “On Indian Removal”, December 6, 1830; Records of the United States Senate, 1789‐1990; Record Group 46; Records of the United States Senate, 1789‐1990; National Archives and Records Administration (NARA]
“By persuasion and force they have been made to retire from river to river and from mountain to mountain, until some of the tribes have become extinct and others have left but remnants to preserve for a while their once terrible names. Surrounded by the whites with their arts of civilization, which by destroying the resources of the savage, doom him to weakness and decay.”
– President Andrew Jackson, 1830.
Illustration: 1830’s engraving depicting Andrew Jackson as the Great Father, with text by Arthur H. DeRosier, Jr., historian and author.
Series #2: A BEAUTIFUL LAND
The Choctaw, having their land in present-day Mississippi taken from them, were forcibly removed to what is now Oklahoma. Oklahoma was chosen both because it was largely uninhabited and because several explorations of the territory had deemed the land barren and useless for any purpose. The truth, however, was that Oklahoma was so fertile a land that is was an “Indian breadbasket”. Those that survived the removal built anew in Oklahoma with their agricultural genius intact.
– Hina Hanta, Choctaw/Cherokee
“…the ground was almost literally covered with vines, producing the greatest profusion of delicious grapes, and hanging in such endless clusters…our progress was oftentimes completely arrested by hundreds of acres of small plum trees…every bush was so loaded with the weight of its fruit, that they were in many instances literally without leaves on their branches and quite bent to the ground.”
– George Catlin 1840
Illustration: Traditionally dressed Choctaw woman painted on announcement of “beautiful” land opening to homesteaders in Indian Territory.
Karen Clarkson lives in Prescott, Arizona, with her husband Bill and their three little dogs. Although many of her works are of Native Americans, Clarkson also creates landscapes and still life, as well as portraits in other mediums. Among a variety of other awards and juried competitions, Clarkson won Best in Show at the Choctaw Indian Arts Show in 2013, 2015, and 2016. Her current work can be seen at the Lyn A. Fox Gallery in Santa Fe, New Mexico and on her personal website.