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The white feather cape that is part of Cherokee artist Julie Thornton-Brison's piece "New Beginnings Are Coming."
The white feather cape that is part of Cherokee artist Julie Thornton-Brison's piece "New Beginnings Are Coming" that will be showcased in the OSU College of Osteopathic Medicine at the Cherokee Nation.

Focus on Native American Art: Julie Thornton-Brison

Wednesday, October 28, 2020

Cherokee artist Julie Thornton-Brison turned a dark time in her life when she was struggling with her health into beautiful textile and woven art pieces, one of which will be showcased in the OSU College of Osteopathic Medicine at the Cherokee Nation.

The facility located in Tahlequah is the first tribally affiliated medical school site in the country. In addition to classrooms, clinical skills labs and a simulation center, the building will also house 125 pieces of Native American art.

Thornton-Brison’s entire work is titled “New Beginnings Are Coming” and is made up of different textile and woven pieces including a belt, trade shirt, wool wrap shirt, puckertoe moccasins, a flat reed market basket as well as the piece that will be displayed on campus at the OSU College of Osteopathic Medicine at the Cherokee Nation, a cape made from white goose feathers attached to a base woven from hemp fiber.

In 2018, Thornton-Brison started getting sick and at first doctors thought it was a brain tumor. But after six months they discovered she had a rare neurological disease that caused paralysis on one side of her body during an attack as well as seizures, vision loss, weight loss, and memory and cognitive issues.

“During that time of the unknown as I like to call it, I was depressed and felt hopeless. I started channeling those emotions into art, which is my medium of expression, and this piece started forming,” she said. “Each piece was at a different spot in my journey, from depression to acceptance and perseverance, slowly coming out of the darkness with each component I completed.”

Gina Olaya, director of Cultural Art & Design for Cherokee Nation Businesses, formed a committee of people from OSU Center of Health Sciences to select pieces submitted from Cherokee Nation artists to be displayed in the new building.

“It is my goal the students, faculty and staff learn about our Cherokee history, culture and heritage through visual art,” Olaya said.

Dr. Natasha Bray, associate dean of Academic Affairs, and Ashlei Ashmore, director of operations at OSUCOM at the Cherokee Nation, were both on the art selection committee.

“We wanted the artwork inside the building to represent the community outside. Working with the talented Gina Olaya we put out a request for submissions to Cherokee artists for art related to health, family and healing,” Bray said. “The depth of talent in so many different mediums, their willingness to share their work, and their vision of health and Cherokee culture; the scope of submissions took my breath away. It was extremely difficult to narrow down the pieces for the building.”

It was even more personal for Ashmore.

“As a Cherokee citizen I am proud to see the Cherokee art displayed throughout the facility. Each piece comes from skills and traditions that have been passed down through the generations. To see my tribe’s culture and rich history as I walk the halls makes this more than a building. It makes it a home,” she said.

Thornton-Brison said the fact that one of her pieces from that time in her life will now be showcased at a medical school seems fitting.

“The background of this piece is rooted in the medical world and healing from it. How could there be a more perfect place than to have it at the OSU college of medicine,” she said. “I am very proud to see it displayed and I hope others will feel the energy that has been created with this piece and know that there is hope and light at the end of the tunnel.”

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