Shell Carving

Chickasaw Culture Keepers

The art of shell carving is a Southeastern tribal tradition that has been passed down from generation to generation. Like his ancestors, Chickasaw visual artist Dustin Mater carries on this ancient tradition. "Shell carvings are a bridge to the past and to the future," says Dustin. For thousands of years, the art of shell carving was used for a variety of items during antiquity. It was only in the late period during the time of removal that shell work began to take a minimalistic approach, but prior to that, it was very ornate. "Some would describe it as baroque, or even Rococo and that it would almost tell a story," he explains. "They were almost like hieroglyphs. These were capturing moments in time." As Dustin displays precontact examples of shell carvings, he says, "You have the dress, you have the tattoos, you have a story and a narrative that we hold the words to. But to see it, it's like a love note in a bottle from those who've come before us." Dustin creates his own stories within his original and unique shell carvings and hopes to teach others to pass the tradition on to future generations. "This is the song of my spirit. I'm only a vessel for this, it's not mine. It is something that's shared and I want to teach as many people this as possible."