OKLAHOMA CITY, Okla. – The Maker Nation Challenge is a live streamed program that hosts different competitive series throughout the country. Talented artists come from around the country including Florida, Missouri, South Carolina, Louisiana and Oklahoma. These artists create their own works involving costuming, tattoos, special effects makeup and glass blowing. Streamed every Tuesday, the show brings in new obstacles for contestants to overcome while they craft their work within a four hour time frame. The show is shot at Cheyenne Sky Studio, an art studio in the Oklahoma City area.
On Jan. 9’s episode Indigenous artists paid tribute with gorgets, including Mvskoke citizen Amanda Rutland (Mvskoke/Seminole). The episode featured three Indigenous Artists competing against one another. Ashley Adams served as the show’s host, guest judges included Taylor Martin and Jessica Harjo.
The artists that participated in this challenge were Rutland, Greg Stice and Josh Stice. They each created a traditional gorget that represented Oklahoma City and their ancestry. After undergoing the difficult tasks presented by the show’s challenge, Rutland came out on top as the winner.
Rutland is an Indigenous artist and owner of Indigo Art & Textile. She spoke about how she became interested in the show, the challenges she faced during the episode she appeared in and how she made her gorget piece.
Rutland has been working with metal for about three years. She is self taught from Youtube videos and craft courses involving metalsmithing. Her journey to learning the craft involved a lot of trial and error.
Among her many interests Rutland has a passion for Mvskoke art, specifically from the Mississippian era. Rutland has been to the Southeastern United States several times. When she went on a trip back in 2019 she noticed that there were not many gorget makers. During that time it inspired her to start making gorget pieces of her own. Her inspiration for her designs came from looking at pictures of preexisting pieces.
“Looking back I was like ‘woah that’s rough’ and it was real sharp but it was still an accomplishment. I was like ‘I did it, I made one’ and so from there I was like how can I make the symbols?,” Rutland said.
While searching through the iconography of symbols Rutland found a passion for seeking the story, and history behind each symbol. “It tells us the stories of who we are,” Rutland said. The serpent is a symbol found in many of Rutland’s pieces because it is one that she identifies with.
When Rutland designs her gorgets she mainly looks up to other Mvskoke artists. She not only looks at their vision, but the story that each work of art tells.
The person who taught Rutland about her Native culture, language and stories was her late father. Through her art pieces she developed a newfound connection with him.
“I really missed that connection and so just looking back on the experiences and things I had as a child was like this is a way I can bring that and make that connection for others too because I do a lot of pieces that are custom,” Rutland said. “People come up to me and say ‘I really identify with this symbol because of my grandma’ or ‘this is our clan and I’m a veteran’.”
Rutland has appeared at different art markets including the Southeastern Art Market and various Christmas markets. According to Rutland, her pieces have sold well in the markets she has appeared in. Because she is self employed, Rutland is able to focus on her art business she founded in 2020. She learned a lot about what it takes to own a business including marketing and documentation paperwork.
Maker Nation Competition
This marked Rutland’s first appearance on Maker Nation. Although Rutland had experience with art show competitions, this was unlike anything she had faced before. When Maker Nation producers first saw Rutland’s work they were impressed, and reached out to schedule her on the program.
The process for booking contestants involved preliminary interviews, followed by two day of filming. Contestants then waited three and half months to see the episode finally air. Per the show’s contract, Rutland had to keep her victory a secret. According to Rutland, she was unable to post pictures, or tell anyone that she won the competition.
Later on when the episode finally aired, Rutland’s family gathered around at a watch party event on Facebook where family members could watch it together. Rutland’s children were hooked by the show, especially her younger son who asked his mom all about what it was like starring on a competition show.
“It’s kind of different watching yourself on TV but it was fun and just remembering the things of being able to interject like ‘oh we were doing this at that time’ and just kind of sharing the challenges,” Rutland said.
The competition presented a different working environment for Rutland, one where she did not have every tool at her disposal like she would have at home. The absence of these tools made the gorget-making process longer than it would normally take. Additionally, Rutland only had four hours to complete her piece with the tools available to her. While the challenge was stressful, Rutland still had fun during the process.
Rutland was familiar with her competitors, the Stices. That familiarity made her feel at ease and created a friendly environment for each competitor.
Going into the competition Rutland admitted she was a little nervous because she did not know what all a competition show entailed. However she felt comfortable when it came time to make her gorgets; a familiar process in an unfamiliar environment.
Rutland made a piece that represented herself as an artist. She included the breakup of the Mississipain worlds from beneath, middle and above the world. Rutland also included a serpent as a personal touch, one she had not included before in the past. The gorget also included a dome to separate the worlds with a whirlpool including a water creature along with raccoon hands, representing her clan.
“I found that women wore beneath-world symbols and men would wear above-world symbols, this was reading through archeological papers of when they were doing exhibition,” Rutland said.
In the drafting stage each competitor had to draw what they were going to make. In the middle of this stage, it was announced that each competitor would need to incorporate a bird into the design. Rutland made the decision to include wings in the background of her piece.
When it came time to start gathering the materials for the gorgets, Rutland had to manage her time wisely. Initially she noticed she was spending too much time when she started working on her gorget.
Next came time for soldering the gorget. Soldering is a process in jewelry making where the metals are cut, fluxed and torched. Once the desired design is set in place by the tools, it is then quenched in cold water. When it comes to gorget making, soldering must be set at a specific temperature in order to get the desired result. For Rutland, she struggled with torching.
At this point in the competition Martin came by to help Rutland fix the issues she was experiencing, recommending she use a larger tip for a larger flow. This made a huge difference, allowing Rutland to gain more time and add other materials to the piece. Rutland then made her piece darker with an antique look to contrast the layers. Next came time to saw down the outline.
Finally when the time was up and it was time for the judges to make their decision, Rutland was declared the winner of the competition. According to Rutland, she was shocked. Especially due to the fact that her fellow competitors created such great designs. For Rutland, this was her first award for a jewelry piece. “As an artist it meant a lot to me,” Rutland said. She described the feeling as being a business owner making their first sale.
A Fulfilling Experience
Overall Rutland stated she had a positive experience with her appearance on the show because it made her step out of her comfort zone and challenge herself. She was also able to make great professional connections, especially with Harjo, who is the business owner of Weomepe Designs and the owner of Indigichic in Tulsa. This would prompt Harjo to ask Rutland to sell her art pieces in Harjo’s shop.
“It’s really opened a whole new path after competing and new opportunities so it was definitely beneficial and it was wonderful. I can’t say enough good things about all of those people,” Rutland said.
From this experience, Rutland’s advice is to not let anything stop anyone from chasing their dreams and to always try, even if they do not know what they are doing. She has learned that there will be a lot of lessons learned during the process, which requires a humble heart and a keen ear to listen.
Rutland’s sons have inherited their mom’s creative talents in their own ways. They each have their own artistic way of thinking. Her oldest son enjoys writing stories and programming, her youngest likes to paint, draw and mold clay. One day Rutland hopes they will both help her with the family business.
Rutland’s artwork has found its way across many different Oklahoma Native American communities including the Red Stick Gallery, Indigichic, Chickasaw Nation and Seminole Nation. Her work has even appeared east in the Mvskoke homelands. “My accomplishments that I’m proud of is that I have work for sale at the Ocmulgee Mounds gift shop in Macon, Georgia,” Rutland said.