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The Chickasaw Nation celebrates Women’s History Month

Release Date: March 26, 2024
By: Chickasaw Nation Media Relations Office

  • Abby Gaines

Big year ahead for princess Abby Gaines

TISHOMINGO, Okla. – A self-taught artist crowned Chickasaw Princess in October also received top honors in the drawing division of the Southeastern Art Show and Market (SEASAM).

October 2023 will be a lifelong, cherished memory for Abby Gaines.

Gaines, 24, was awarded first place for her piece “Chikasha Ihoo” (Chickasaw Women), which also served as her talent portion for the Chickasaw Annual Meeting and Festival Princess Pageant.

It is a detailed, intricate and beautiful charcoal drawing of three Chickasaw women engaging in a friendly contest of stickball.

It took 30 hours to complete.

The subjects are all her friends. Jeri Underwood and her daughters Brenlee and Jayla were participating in the stickball tournament conducted during May’s Chikasha Ittafama (Chickasaw Reunion).  Gaines knew she wanted to feature three dynamic Chickasaw women playing the game.

“In my mind’s eye, I already had an idea of what I wanted,” Gaines said. “I had taken my camera down to the tournament grounds and began shooting. The photo I eventually used for ‘Chikasha Ihoo’ was one of my favorites.”

“Chikasha Ihoo” is just one of several first place honors Gaines has accepted in art shows beginning in 2021.

“I have only been drawing seriously for about six years,” she said. “During high school, I wasn’t serious about it. I just goofed around drawing portraits of family and friends.”

When she decided to get “serious,” Gaines finished with a first-place award in drawing at the 2021 virtual Artesian Arts Festival.

The drawing was a portrait of fluent Chickasaw language speaker Rose Jefferson, who also served in the princess pageant as “the elder under the arbor” when Gaines was crowned 2023-2024 Chickasaw Princess.

Another first place award came in 2022 with a rendering of Choctaw dancer Okatusha Roberts, a friend of Gaines.

In the 2022 SEASAM competition, Gaines earned another first place award titled “Willie Jack,” the drawing was purchased by the Chickasaw Nation Information Center in Tishomingo and is currently on display.

The charcoal award winner was – from start to finish – “freehand” artistry. However, Gaines also knows how to create beautiful art using computers. A portrait of her grandmother, Zella Gaines, is an example.

“I do like it. I did all the artwork on my iPad,” she explained while looking at the portrait. “I’m not sure how long it took to finish, but it is close to my heart.”

It is in full color, and she credits Bryan Waytula, a Cherokee artist, with being her mentor and advocate.

“Bryan was great. He showed me his talent and gave me pointers on my art. He also encouraged me to work with colored pencils. If it wasn’t for Bryan, I’m not sure I would have ever used color,” Gaines said.

 Waytula’s work “The Grass Dancer” was named Best of Show at 2023 SEASAM. It marks the second year in a row Mr. Waytula has earned Best of Show honors.

Gaines works for the Chickasaw Nation as an administrative assistant in the department of culture and humanities. As such, she assisted Waytula who was instructing young Chickasaws during arts academy festivities that occur throughout the year.

The largest of these is the Chickasaw Nation Arts Academy where all genres of art expression are honed – from painting to performing arts.

As she undertakes her duties as a goodwill ambassador of the Chickasaw Nation, being Chickasaw Princess will become her most important assignment. She believes her artistic efforts will be interrupted, but her optimism is still sharply focused.

“I know I will meet many people and visit many places. I know I will find opportunities and inspiration for my art while serving the Chickasaw people,” she added.