Unbroken Beauty

By Sarah Elisabeth Sawyer (Choctaw Nation), Artist in Business Leadership Fellow 2015



Addison Karl (Chickasaw Nation, Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma) is a contemporary artist. His work manifests itself in drawing, painting, and sculpture in exhibitions, public art, lectures, and installation. His art projects have found their way to Hong Kong, Pakistan, Mexico, Malaysia, Japan, Israel, Russia, the United States, and Europe. 

Support from Addison’s 2019 First Peoples Fund Artist in Business Leadership grant is helping him tell the Chickasaw story in a visual narrative. He resides in Bremerton, Washington.

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Strength and beauty broke forth as Addison hammered away the ceramic shell surrounding his bronze sculpture of Mary Shackleford (Chickasaw Nation). Posed in traditional Chickasaw dress, Mary sat with folded hands, her expression one of calm determination. The sculpture of her had emerged from the fiery heat, enduring to the moment where it rested among the shattered pieces of ceramic, a symbol of perseverance, tenacity, and hope.

When Addison visited Oklahoma in 2017 for the Chickasaw Nation Annual Meeting and Festival, he captured the realness of people like Mary for his Heritage Preservation Sculptures project. From linguists and stomp dancers to storytellers and elders, he gathered reference material for his current focus of sculpture combined with heritage preservation. Addison is expanding his abilities as an artist to bronze sculpting, a strong material that represents the unconquerable spirit of the Chickasaw people.

Addison’s first attempts at 3D art were a learning process. He created a mold with plaster of Paris and sent it in the mail, only to have it arrive in crumbs. He needed to find something to withstand any journey. 

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“That’s where the bronze comes into play,” he says. “Thankfully, First Peoples Fund saw the benefit of this narrative in personal storytelling and using a material that has longevity to it. The cool aspect of this is, I’m learning so much throughout the process. Mary Shackleford is only my third sculpture in bronze. This is all brand new.”

Addison’s first translation into bronze was “Kamassa” (elder), an Oklahoma Chickasaw man whose quiet demeanor and tranquility shows in the gentle lines etched on his face. 

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The statue was durable enough for the journey to Munich, where it was on display before Addison brought it back to the U.S. and into the home of a private collector.

Addison has traveled worldwide with his work as he attempts to expand viewers’ understanding of the context, structures, and surfaces that his art inhabits. He will continue to create pieces like Mary Shackleford that symbolize rising out of brokenness.

“As for many tribal members, creating is a means of honoring our ancestors and passing down cultural values from one generation to the next,” he says. “It’s an important factor in turning the past’s hardships and wounds into something beautiful.”