February 10, 2010

Te Ata honored by Oklahoma senate

Portrait of Te Ata given in memoryAs a State Senator, the late Helen Cole often shared stories about her famous aunt, Chickasaw storyteller, Te Ata. On Monday, a portrait of Te Ata was dedicated to Cole’s memory during a ceremony in the State Senate.

Te Ata, also known as Mary Frances Thompson Fisher, was born in the Chickasaw Nation near Tishomingo in 1895 and achieved national and international acclaim as a storyteller, helping preserve tales from her own Chickasaw tribe as well as other Native stories. She was recognized by the Oklahoma Hall of Fame in 1958, and in 1987, Te Ata was named Oklahoma’s first Cultural Treasure by Gov. Henry Bellmon and the Oklahoma Arts Council. She died in 1995, just a few days before her 100th birthday.
Te Ata (1895-1995)Te Ata worked on a Chautauqua circuit managed out of St. Louis, and she began to develop her style of storytelling using various American Indian sources. Her readings, storytelling, and dance were often accompanied by classical and other music played on piano. She eventually also used small drums, rattles, and other common, traditional instruments. With Davis's encouragement she attended Carnegie Institute of Technology in Pittsburg, Pennsylvania, for one year. From Pittsburg she moved to New York City where she worked in theater and entertained the city's social elite. There Te Ata met Clyde Fisher, a naturalist and eventual curator of the Hayden Planetarium, and they married in 1933.

In 1933 Te Ata performed for the first state dinner given by Pres. Franklin Roosevelt. Many of her performances in the 1930s were at summer camps throughout New England and New York state. In 1939 she performed again for the Roosevelts at their home in Hyde Park, New York, on the occasion of a state visit by the king and queen of Great Britain. Later, Te Ata toured Europe, giving performances for royal families and heads of state. The Fishers traveled in South America and extensively in the United States, often observing Native ceremonies and learning different traditions. Te Ata incorporated these experiences in performances later in her storytelling.
Comment:  Interesting to compare images of Te Ata. Apparently she really dressed like a (stereo)typical Indian maiden. But was this her normal appearance, or did she dress that way for audiences? The latter, I suspect.

Below:  "A portrait of Chickasaw storyteller Te Ata was revealed Monday at the state Capitol. The picture was dedicated in memory of the late State Senator Helen Cole."

Looks like a pattern. But then there are these:

These images suggest that Te Ata was giving audiences what they expected. In her regular life, she probably looked and dressed like anyone else. But people wouldn't have sat still for a modern woman in an evening gown. They wanted a maiden wearing buckskins, feathers, and moccasins.

For more on the subject, see Native Plays and Other Stage Shows.

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