MuskogeePhoenix.com, Muskogee, OK

Local News

March 31, 2013

Cherokee artist uses job as cultural platform

Nelson sees museum’s gift shop as way to connect with public

— Cherokee artist Mary Beth Nelson has several ways to share her culture.

There’s her art, of course — wildlife paintings that seem to glow with different hues; vivid, bright-colored paintings filled with Native American symbols.

“I do a lot of Native American art and a lot of wildlife art,” Nelson said. “Even when I do wildlife, I try to include Native American imagery in it. When I tell people about it, it gives me a chance to talk about the culture.”

For example, she said, many people think images in her art look contemporary, but they actually are ancient symbols from southeastern tribes.

Nelson also uses her job at the Five Civilized Tribes Museum gift shop as a way to share. “I have found, working here at the museum, there are so many people who have no idea about our history or our heritage,” she said. “It gives me a chance to tell them.”

Nelson, 44, has worked at the gift shop off and on for about five years. After living two years out of state, she moved back to Muskogee in July.

A native of Pryor Creek, Nelson grew up in different parts of the country but had one driving interest.

“I’ve always drawn all my life,” she said. “But I got serious when I turned 30, 14 years ago.”

She said her first art influence was painter/illustrator Norman Rockwell:

“I remember as a kid, we had Norman Rockwell prints and calendars at our house. All his paintings told a story.”

Nelson also recalled visiting a Renaissance art exhibit at the Philbrook Museum of Art in Tulsa while in elementary school.

“I wanted to just stare at each painting,” she said. “I was amazed, so amazed at their depth. They all seemed to glow.”

Meet Mary Beth Nelson

AGE: 44.

HOMETOWN: Pryor Creek.

CAREER: Gift shop manager at Five Civilized Tribes Museum; artist.

EDUCATION: Guthrie High School, 1987.

FAMILY: Two sons, Brodey and Wesley.

RELIGIOUS AFFILIATION: Baptist.

HOBBIES: “I love being outside, whether working in my flower bed or out exploring. I love my birds. I always have to have some kind of feeder for them.”

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