Though the Route 66 Native Arts Alliance’s Vault Gallery is housed in an unassuming former bank building on Oklahoma Highway 66, it is far from tame. On exhibit is a vibrant collection of paintings, sculptures, digital art, woodcarvings, furniture, leatherwork, and unique goods by both seasoned and burgeoning Native American artists from across the country. These artists act as cultural ambassadors of their tribes and serve to educate us on the unique histories and experiences of Native communities, explains founding member and President Betsy Swimmer.
In its short life, the volunteer-run organization has made remarkable strides in promoting Native art and artisans by hosting art shows and artist previews as well as Native ceremonies and special presentations. The Alliance has recently announced a trip to Ireland in 2024 to visit the “Kindred Spirits” Sculpture that honors the generosity of the Choctaw Nation during the Great Famine.
We spoke with two extraordinary artists featured at the Vault Gallery.
Gwen Coleman Lester, Choctaw
The Route 66 Native Arts Gala & Fashion Show on July 14, 2023, will feature Choctaw artist Gwen Coleman Lester as the Alliance’s Artist of the Year. This Claremore-based Master Artist specializes in paintings, drawings and pyrography of Native culture and wildlife.
Gwen’s works have been showcased at museums and art festivals throughout the country, including the Santa Fe Indian Market, Five Civilized Tribes Museum, Cherokee Art Market, Choctaw Cultural Center, and at the first festival of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian. Her Choctaw Code Talker painting also graces the nose of an F-15 fighter jet based in Oregon.
Gwen will represent the Choctaw Nation when the Alliance visits Cork, Ireland in 2024 to view the “Kindred Spirits” Sculpture. The sculpture honors the generosity of the Choctaw Nation during the Great Famine of 1847.
Anita Mitchell, Cherokee
Celebrated Cherokee painter Ron Mitchell began teaching his granddaughter Anita about art at a young age, but the sixteen-year-old has already made a name for herself in the art community. She has received numerous awards for her thought-provoking digital art pieces and garnered a loyal social media following.
Anita Mitchell enjoys exploring artistic mediums and learning the “business side” of art from her grandfather, who explains that her art is “as modern as today but drawn from inspirations that link to the past.”
All are invited to attend the Route 66 Native Arts Gala & Fashion Show on July 14, 2023 at Bella Donna Event Center. At this elegant event, guests will experience an art show featuring work by local artists, art awards, a fashion show and a silent auction with amazing items up for grabs. Tickets and sponsorships are available at email@example.com.
The Vault Gallery and The Medicine Box, a Native arts gift shop, are open to the public Monday – Friday 10 a.m. - 5 p.m. and Saturdays 10 a.m. - 3 p.m. at 1801 N Hwy-66 in Catoosa. Memberships are available to artists and patrons. Learn more at rt66nativeartsalliance.org.
“It is so important that we get younger generations involved in preserving our culture.” - Betsy Swimmer, Alliance President