Published on June 10, 2013 by Amy
Elena Carol Pate’s creativity and love of color can be seen in her beadwork and dolls. A Choctaw artist, she was born in Hugo, Oklahoma, and was raised by her grandmother until the age of five when her grandmother passed away. Left without other close family ties, Carol was adopted by a family in Oklahoma City. “It wasn’t until I was grown and married that I began to create my own art,” says Carol.
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After her marriage to Rick Pate and the birth of their first daughter, Amber, Carol wanted to reconnect with her Choctaw heritage. She began teaching herself beadwork and researching the styles and patterns. She took classes with Native beadworkers, Patricia Moustrail and Hennrietta Tsoti, at the American Indian Cultural Society, a local Indian cultural organization.
After seeing her work, Carol’s mother, Sharon Hazleton, and her friend, Delores Pratt, encouraged Carol to sell her work. Delores entered Carol’s work at the Gallup Inter-tribal Ceremonial. Carol won first and second place awards. Rick’s parents, Ed and Hanna Pate, were happy to have Carol”s work at the Tribes Gallery they operated in Norman, Oklahoma, selling art from the region.
Today, Carol is one of the top beadworkers in the country, winning top honors for her work at the Red Earth Festival in Oklahoma City and the Inter-tribal Indian Ceremonial in Gallup. Carol is known for her vibrant colors and eye for contrast and design. She uses one of the smallest sizes of beads, size 13, to create her intricate patterns. She also uses cut glass faceted beads that capture the light and turn each piece into one of dazzling beauty.
Turtles are a recurring theme in Carol’s work. “Turtles are important to the Choctaw,” says Carol, “We even have a Turtle Dance to honor them.” Carol makes several sizes of beaded turtles, from a few inches to almost twelve inches. She also makes lizards and frogs. “My animals are reminiscent of the umbilical fetishes made by mothers for their children,” says Carol. Children’s umbilical cords were sewn into the fetishes and were kept by the children throughout their lives. They represented the tie to their mothers, families and nation. “The turtles and frogs were usually given to the boys, and the lizards were given to the girls,” says Carol.
Carol will make traditional dolls upon request, but enjoys making contemporary dolls so that she is not limited to colors and designs used in the past. She makes leather and cloth dolls wearing traditional buckskin regalia or cloth dresses. The Choctaw woman dolls will have the beautiful beaded collars and other accessories. She has made miniature beaded cradleboards, but one of her future goals is to make a fully beaded, full-size cradleboard.