With the opening of the Cherokee National History Museum last week, the tribe's Cultural Tourism Department had to decide who and what would be included among the initial temporary exhibit on the first floor of the old Cherokee Nation Capitol Building.
They landed on Cecil Dick, also known as Degadoga, to be featured in the rotating gallery space. The Cherokee National Treasure and artist created paintings that are considered rare to many, and he ultimately garnered the title "father of traditional Cherokee art."
"When we were looking for an exhibit to open with, we wanted to find something that was a unique blend of history and art," said Travis Owens, director of cultural tourism for Cherokee Nation Businesses. "So Cecil Dick's story, along with his vibrant art career, really gave us an opportunity to kind of marry history and art and showcase him."
Those who visit the museum can learn about Dick's early life, after being born near Rose Prairie, Oklahoma, in 1915. The informational panels that hang next to his paintings tell about the struggles he went through as a child who only knew how to speak Cherokee, and how he was introduced to art.
"We have a lot of his art around all of the Cherokee Nation properties, but a lot of people don't really know his story," said Owens. "So we took this opportunity to help tell his story side by side with his artwork."
Dick's work in the museum features paintings that depict the culture, heritage, and history of Cherokees. His use of vibrant colors radiate off of the gallery's wood flooring and beige walls. Some of the pieces are from CNB's collection and others are on loan from Dick's family.
"The family was very receptive to featuring his life and chose to actually loan us some pieces of art from their collection to showcase his story," said Owens.
Some of Dick's paintings have hung in Cherokee Nation properties, like the W.W. Keeler Complex. Those who have seen his work still have a chance to view it in a whole new way at the museum, though, as two of his paintings were blown up to large scale.
"It's almost life-size, so it's almost like you can step into one of his paintings," said Owens.
In a clear case within the exhibit lies a silver medal awarded to Dick. The Sequoyah Medal, also known as the Cherokee Nation Heritage Award, was given to him in 1983 "for intellectual and artistic achievements," said Owens.
Some of his work is has been purchased for collections at the Smithsonian Museum, the Philbrook Museum, the Heard Museum, the Gilcrease Museum, and the Five Civilized Tribes Museum, among others. After a career of teaching, painting, and illustrating, Dick died in 1992 in Tahlequah, the capital of the Cherokee Nation.
"I think for folks in the community, this is a great way to come out and get to know more about not just a Cherokee citizen, but someone from the community and near to the community," said Owens. "Most people have probably seen his work around the Cherokee Nation complex, so this is a great way to learn more about him."
Check it out
The exhibit at the Cherokee National History Museum will be on display until Jan. 31. The museum is open Tuesday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. For more info, call 877-779-6977.