49 Minutes of Fame Artist Profile: Dustin Mater

Dustin Mater incorporates Native traditions into designs as 49 Minutes of Fame featured artist.

From a young age, Dustin Mater has had a passion for art that drives him to tell the stories of his people.

A citizen of the Chickasaw Nation, Mater grew up in Ada, Oklahoma, where his artistic talent was encouraged by his mother and grandmother. When he was 2 years old, Mater says he drew a picture of a train and conductor for his mother. Her positive feedback marked the beginning of his interest in art.

“I loved that feeling,” Mater says. “That’s what I’ve been trying to do ever since to get that feeling of approval.”

Life-shaping influences

Describing himself as “quiet” throughout his childhood and 20s, Mater says art has always been his form of self-inspiration from Batman, Predator and other characters.

During his childhood, Mater says another key influence was his grandmother Caroline, an original Chickasaw Nation enrollee. From his grandmother, he heard vivid stories of his tribe’s traditions and struggles, such as the Trail of Tears, which his great-grandfather walked in 1850.

Mater says his grandmother’s historical accounts inform his designs to this day.

“I was so blessed to know her,” he says. “She would tell me these amazing stories of pre-contact and this amazing world. I was hungry for it. That was one of the things that really attracted me in hunting for these designs.”

Developing his trade

Driven to enhance his craft, Mater moved to Los Angeles at 18, where he studied art and design at Santa Monica College and the Multimedia Institute of Hollywood from 2000 to 2004. After meeting his wife, Mater moved his family to Dallas, where he worked as a freelance illustrator and graphic designer. In 2011, he returned to Ada with his wife and daughter to work with the Chickasaw Nation as the graphic arts coordinator for the Arts & Humanities Division.

As an artist, Mater says he is interested in a variety of themes and genres, including Mississippian and Muskogean designs. Currently, he is working on a series of ledger doodles on antique 1918 paper based on ledger books he owns from the early 1900s. XLately, Mater says he has also been drawing portraits of Native women.

“I never saw my wife, mom and daughter represented in pop culture,” he says. “I never saw Native women portrayed in a way that was authentically powered. I’ve always been around strong women so that’s been my forte, portraying them in art.”

Telling Native stories

Inspired by his grandmother’s stories, Mater says he has made it his mission to share his tribe’s culture through art. In addition to his work on a series of murals for the Chickasaw Nation, Mater was a featured artist in 49 Minutes of Fame: An Exhibition of Native Pop Art at the National Willa Cather Center’s Red Cloud Opera House Gallery. At the show, he displayed his ledger drawings and a watercolor mixed media painting titled “Birds Eye View: VIII,” which pictures a dugout canoe drawn on 1902 Indian Territory paper.

When exhibit curator and Cherokee Nation member Tom Farris approached him about participating in 49 Minutes of Fame, Mater says he was excited for the opportunity, as he enjoys creating pop art from a Native perspective.

“It feels awesome.” Mater says. “We’re a living, breathing people. We’re all alive and it’s the song of our souls. It’s a contemporary tune.”

A pop culture fan, Mater says much of his work features a contemporary take on Native American history alongside homages to Disney and Star Wars. One of his favorite designs is a series of illustrations featuring Star Wars helmets mixed with headdresses and copper pieces.

“It shows that there’s Natives in the future,” Mater says. “I’ve always had an idea for a Native sci-fi series and I’d love to pursue that someday.”

Advancing pop art

Growing up, Mater says some of his biggest influences were Andy Warhol, Salvador Dali and T.C. Cannon, an important figure in Native American art. He has also drawn inspiration from the sand paintings that were displayed in his childhood home.

Mater says he likes pop art due to the juxtapositions, contrasting tones and bold colors.

“A lot of my work has chrome and neon colors,” he says. “When my daughter was 8, she told me I didn’t have enough glitter in my art so I’ve been incorporating a lot of that, too.”

Along with his creative endeavors, Mater has also ventured into teaching graphic design and Southeastern Native art workshops. Although the classes are currently on hold due to COVID-19, Mater is continuing to create shell carvings, a traditional art form dating back hundreds of years in the Southeast. He says he hopes to develop online classes with the goal of teaching students how to craft shell carvings from the antiquity period to present.

Through his work, Mater says he has continued to learn about the stories of his people. Influenced by his tribe’s history, Mater is working hard to preserve Native traditions in art.

“I’m still that kid wanting to make my mom proud,” he says. “Now that I know the context of our stories, it has put a fire in me to incorporate those designs for our community.”

About Dustin Mater

Dustin Illetewahke Mater is an award-winning artist based in Ada, Oklahoma. A citizen of the Chickasaw Nation, Mater specializes in shell carvings, gorgets, carved sculpture, portraits and other designs that illustrate Native American culture. Mater’s work has been displayed in various galleries throughout the country, including the Smithsonian Museum, National Park Services and the National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C. Among many distinctions, Mater is the first southeastern tribal member to have a design featured as part of the Pendleton Blankets Legendary Collection and the fourth contemporary Chickasaw artist whose work is included in the permanent collection of the National Museum of the American Indian. An expert in graphic art, Mater also designed “The Muskogean,” a 200-page historical science fiction graphic novel. Mater currently works for the Chickasaw Nation as the graphic arts coordinator for the Arts and Humanities Division.

To learn more about Dustin Mater and his art, visit his website, Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter pages.

Learn more about 49 Minutes of Fame: An Exhibition of Native Pop Art which was installed at the Red Cloud Opera House Gallery from November 5-December 14, 2021 • For a list of other 49 Minutes of Fame artist profiles on this website, click here • You can also view the digital gallery here.

We are grateful to freelance writer Juli Oberlander for her artist biographies and public relations efforts for this exhibit.