Jewelry designer Kristen Dorsey has a profound relationship to adornment - it is her way of reclaiming her Chickasaw heritage and communicating the beauty, wisdom and power of traditional tribal stories and symbols.
Born and raised in Southern California, Kristen maintained a connection to her Chickasaw heritage through her grandfather, while simultaneously cultivating a love of the ocean and surf culture.
"My dad is a marine biologist, so we would spend hours at the beach growing up," she explains. "I became a surfer and my connection to the ocean grew even stronger." Her jewelry designs are the physical manifestation of this unique cultural background, combing tribal motifs and materials with references to water and a decidedly contemporary aesthetic.
Kristen honed her metalworking and stone-setting skills at the School of the Museum of fine Arts in Boston while also earning a degree in American studies with a concentration in Native American studies from Tufts University. In 2011, she founded Kristen Dorsey Designs, which represents the intersection of her academic and artistic interests.
Kristen frequently works in rose gold, a reference to the Chickasaw nations's traditional copper work. "My ancestors were some of the first metalworkers on the continent," She notes. In Mississippi, Tennessee, and Alabama, copper workshops could be found at the city centers. The copper was a valuable trade good sourced primarily from the Great Lakes region. Chickasaw artists worked the copper into elaborate adornments and sculptures depicting stories, and these traditional motifs regularly find their way into her designs. " I believe jewelry is a sacred narrative."
Some of Kristen's most striking pieces are contemporary interpretation of traditional Native American gorgets. Early Chickasaw gorgets - beginning as round medallions and later morphing into crescent shaped necklaces worn close to the throat - were made from gourds, shells, and eventually copper or silver. They symbolized rank status and were often worn by tribal leaders; the etched or repousse designs on them contained information about lineage or traditional stories. Her elegant mix- metal and gemstone versions have been featured in museum shows around the country.
Kristen's design work has allowed her to connect with her Chickasaw community throughout the United States. "The Chickasaw nation has been very supportive of my work. I wouldn't be where I am today without my tribe, and the artists I have met through shows. We all exchange ideas and support each other." It has also allowed her to share the beauty and depth of Chickasaw history, culture and aesthetics with a broader audience.