Release Date: April 05, 2024

by Chickasaw Nation Media Relations Office

The 11th annual Artesian Arts Festival is set to take place April 13 in Sulphur, Oklahoma, at the Artesian Plaza.

The Artesian Arts Festival brings First American music, dance and cuisine to visitors while celebrating First American art and artists around the world. A diverse lineup of First American art from paintings to pottery will be on display for art enthusiasts.

A Cherokee artist with a big story to tell, Valerie Kagan, is presenting her artwork for the first time at the Artesian Arts Festival.

Kagan lives in Tahlequah, Oklahoma, is a U.S. Army veteran, as well as a mother and the wife of a retired soldier. Patrons of the Artesian Arts Festival will find Kagan is a jack-of-all-trades regarding Cherokee artwork. Though her passion lies in Cherokee beadworking, she dabbles in many forms of artwork such as wall hangings, gourd art, jewelry, bags and apparel. Her main objective is to create art traditional to Cherokee history.

“I don’t think I make any art that isn’t specifically Cherokee, from the materials to the symbolism,” Kagan said.

Kagan’s love for creativity sparked at the young age of 7 as she watched her 16-year-old brother teach himself to bead on a loom.

“I was watching him do this introductory loom beading,” Kagan said. “Just watching my big brother do something so cool – that’s what sparked it for me.”

From that moment on, she knew she wanted to create art reflecting her Cherokee heritage.

“At school recess when other kids would be playing tag or dodgeball, you’d find me on a bench stringing beads for bracelets and necklaces,” Kagan said.

Although her brother set her artistic journey in motion, he has not been her only mentor. She has learned from many artists around the country throughout her life.

In June 2014, Kagan’s family was stationed in Fort Sill, Oklahoma. During this time, she had the pleasure of meeting Martha Berry, a skilled Cherokee artist. Berry mentored Kagan on the traditional crafting of Cherokee beadwork.

“I learned two-point needle applique, and I got to learn how to use two needles and do it the way our ancestors did it,” Kagan said. “That’s when I really found my artistic voice.”

While her family was stationed in North Carolina, Kagan was able to visit the Museum of the Cherokee People in Cherokee, North Carolina, and learn traditional art skills from Deborah Harding. Harding is the collection manager of the section of anthropology at Carnegie Museum of Natural History.

“She taught me how to twine textiles, weave fishnet bases for feather capes and how to finger weave with beads,” Kagan said.

She also learned how to create gourd masks from Cherokee citizen Verna Bates. Kagan said
Bates is a self-taught artist with nearly 25 years of experience in traditional Cherokee gourd art.

“I have had many blessed encounters with many good teachers who have taught me really treasured things along the way,” Kagan said.

Kagan’s desire to immerse herself in historic Cherokee culture and traditions has not only affected her perspective on life, but it has also affected her perspective on how she creates art.

“I bead on wool strouds and fabrics that would have been used post-contact but pre-removal,” Kagan said. “I primarily use traditional colors – navies, reds and blacks that they would have used back then. That’s primarily what you will see in my work.”

Kagan hopes her art style helps bring historical Cherokee culture into the present day.

“On my website, I have this coin phrase that says, ‘Where Tradition Meets Today,’” she said.

Kagan creates traditional art in a contemporary way. Although she creates art to reflect the past, Kagan wants her pieces to be celebrated in the present. She said she hopes people who buy her bandolier bags use them in their day-to-day life.

“My absolute favorite thing in the world is to see people actually wear them,” she said. “They aren’t stuck behind museum glass – they actually get to live.”

Though Kagan has been creating art for most of her life, she just recently began attending art markets as an artist.

“I did the Hushtola' Market in 2023,” Kagan said. “It was my first ever art market, so my very first art market was with the Chickasaws.”

Kagan said she has been looking forward to the 2024 Artesian Arts Festival.

“I have been attending the festival for years as a guest,” she said. “It’ll be my first year attending as an artist, and I am so excited.”

Kagan has been working hard during the last few months to prepare for this event. She said she has exciting new designs she looks forward to displaying.

“I am going to be entering a very elaborate feather cape this year, so I look forward to showing that to everybody,” she said.

Kagan said the Chickasaw Nation does an incredible job creating a fun and comfortable environment for artists and patrons of the arts alike.

“The hospitality of the Chickasaw people is just unsurpassed,” Kagan said. “They treat the artists incredibly.”

Kagan said she enjoys attending artistic events outside of her own culture, because she is able to reach a different sector of the population and see artists in different walks of life.

“By meeting a whole new group of art enthusiasts and artists, it takes you into a whole new demographic,” Kagan said. “Meeting new people and meeting new artists is a lifeblood for artists.”

 She said the privilege of being chosen as an artist this year is not lost on her.

“Just the opportunity to be juried in and be highlighted as an artist is huge praise for me and an absolute honor,” Kagan said.

About the Artesian Arts Festival

Hosted by the Chickasaw Nation, the Artesian Arts Festival spotlights prominent First American artists from across the country. The event celebrates First American works and artists. It is open to artists from all federally recognized tribes.

A wide variety of musical entertainment, tribal dance demonstrations, artist talks and food vendors accentuate the Artesian Arts Festival. Open to the public at no charge, the event welcomes thousands to Sulphur each year.

The Artesian Arts Festival takes place at the Artesian Plaza, located adjacent to the Artesian Hotel and Spa, 1001 W. First St., Sulphur. 

For more information, contact Chickasaw Nation Arts & Humanities at (580) 272-5520 or visit