The 2.5 years of isolation from the COVID-19 pandemic is ending in June for renowned 80-year-old Chickasaw painter and sculptor Lance Straughn.
He is thrilled the Artesian Arts Festival returns to an in-person art show in downtown Sulfur June 25. Since 2020, the festival has been hosted virtually by the Chickasaw Nation.
“I love seeing and talking to people,” Straughn said from his Oklahoma City home recently. “I’ve missed that personal interaction. Many times, art admirers want to hear what inspired individual works of art and I prefer speaking one-on-one with them about what inspires me or why I painted a specific work and the story behind the art,” he said.
With the festival’s 2022 rebirth, Straughn will feature wide ranging works, including sculpting and realistic paintings depicting First American heritage and traditions.
He continues experimenting and learning from his famed and critically acclaimed “spirit” paintings, a surreal art form transcending realism and impressionism with eclectic color schemes praised and purchased by artists, patrons, museums, and art galleries.
One spirit painting, “Bear Clan Guardian,” is proudly displayed at the US Department of Interior Museum in Washington, DC Purchased in August 2021, the painting is included in the 1,500-piece collection on rotating display at the facility.
The purchase was one of the highlights of Straughn’s impressive career — which started at childhood but did not take off as a full-time endeavor until he retired at age 68.
“A year and a half before the pandemic hit, I was becoming discouraged. My art wasn’t moving in a satisfactory direction, and I was finding it difficult to be included in galleries. I thought about quitting,” he said. Some depression set in, and I have realized it. Then as COVID-19 swept the nation, Straughn’s art “took on a real dark side.” Asked if those paintings were quality works ready for display, Straughn flatly said “NO.”
While missing his friends, normal activities and attending festivals, the pandemic forced Straughn to focus, explore and innovate. It meant many hours in his studio alone with his own thoughts of him. He discovered his ability to research and explore topics limiting. Forays into the outside world to snap photos and find inspiration diminished.
Then it all seemed to come together. What was fractured became whole. For about a year prior to COVID-19, Straughn’s art was revitalized by the spirit paintings.
In late 2018, Straughn was the featured artist at the Jacobson House at the University of Oklahoma. It was the exhibition where “spirit” paintings emerged to critical acclaim.
Shortly after the exhibition, Straughn became a regular exhibitor at Tribes 131 Gallery in Norman at the behest of owner Leslie Pate, joining many Chickasaws and countless other tribal artists with works on display.
The Chickasaw Nation opened up several of its outlets to Straughn-inspired art as well as its galleries which attract a national and global audience. It was then the pandemic put a halt to festivals and in-person art shows.
Yet, it was a time Straughn’s work and personal accomplishments flourished.
The Department of Interior purchased “Bear Clan Guardian.” Next, the Wilson, Oklahoma, native was honored by the Wilson Historical Society with the Jim Miller Artistic and Cultural Award. It is named for a rough and tumble oil field roughneck who stumbled upon a knack of painting and sculpting First American-themed art late in his life from him to much celebration.
“The award was truly an honor, particularly from the Wilson Historical Society. The community of Wilson holds a special place in the hearts of the Straughn family,” I explained.
He completed and published “Images in the Smoke,” a compilation book of Chickasaw, Cherokee, Cheyenne, and Sioux mythological stories handed down through centuries. “I was thrilled to write and illustrate the book. I am constantly amazed and delighted at stories passed down by First Americans. There is a timelessness to them. They are relevant to this day,” Straughn said.
He will bring that same enthusiasm to the Artesian Arts Festival and the Artesian Online Art Market. Four works are of principle interest to Straughn as he prepares for the shows.
Three paintings – “Speaks to the Grandfathers,” “Chickasaw Healer,” and a spirit painting “Night Run” are eponymous with Straughn’s desire to advance the heritage, tradition and wonder of First Americans and a way of life from centuries past. A sculpture, “Wolf Dancer,” pays homage to an ancient ritual dance Straughn is still researching.
Not yet cast in bronze, Straughn will exhibit the piece of a Cherokee dressed in wolf hide, carrying a ceremonial rattle and spear. “I finished just enough research and saw a few photographs to sculpt ‘Wolf Dancer’ but the full heritage behind the ceremony still needs my attention,” I observed. “I know the tradition is very old.”
About Artesian Arts Festival
Hosted by the Chickasaw Nation, the Artesian Arts Festival is a celebration of all art expressions.
The one-day event features diverse art media created by elite First American artists, showcased at the Artesian Plaza, 1001 W. First St., in downtown Sulfur, Oklahoma.
Open to the public at no cost, the Artesian Arts Festival welcomed more than 11,000 visitors in 2019, the most recent in-person festival. The Artesian Online Art Market was launched in 2020 and 2021 and will also be available this year.
For more information, visit ArtesianArtsFestival.com or call (580) 272-5525.