Into the Dream Left Behind

Jave Semple Umsted

Jane Semple Umsted is a fourth generation Oklahoman with a rich family history that often provides her with inspiration. Her great- great- great-grandfather was Peter Pitchlynn, who served as Principal Chief of the Choctaw from 1864 until 1866. A graduate of the University of Nashville, he strongly valued education and worked to establish the Choctaw Academy in Kentucky in 1825, then helped move the school to Indian Territory in 1841. In 1845, Pitchlynn was appointed as the Choctaw delegate to Washington, D.C., a position he held for a total of 30 years. During that time he addressed the President and several congressional committees regarding Choctaw claims for eastern lands sold under duress as a result of the Treaty of Dancing Rabbit Creek.

Umsted’s great-uncle, William F. Semple, also served as Principal Chief, from 1918 until 1922. Semple earned his law degree from Washington and Lee University the same year Oklahoma became a state. He worked in private practice in Durant and also served two terms in the Oklahoma House of Representatives. He was later appointed as District Attorney for the Choctaw Nation. Umsted’s great-aunt, Anne R. Semple, earned a doctorate degree from Oklahoma State University and was named Oklahoma’s Poet Laureate in 1944. She taught for many years at Southeastern Oklahoma State University in Durant.

Into the Dream Left Behind is a mixed medium work employing batik and watercolors. Umsted developed the technique herself during her senior year at the University of Oklahoma. The multi-step process begins with a very involved drawing traced onto the fabric, followed by watercolors. She then applies hot wax to the fabric. “Trying to control the hot wax is the most difficult part because it spreads. It is hard to control how long or how wide the stroke will be,” Umsted said. The areas with wax will resist dye, which is the next step in the process. Knowing how the colors will react with each other and how the final product will look is an equation Umsted has been calculating the last 40 years. “You never know exactly what the piece is going to look like until the end. It’s always a surprise.”

That element of unpredictability intrigued Umsted. Up until college, her art training had all been very traditional and controlled. “With a painting, you can paint it over and over again until you like it.” With the batik work, the challenge comes from correctly predicting the way all the elements will interact. “I enjoy that challenge.” She still frequently paints with oil, but sometimes the subject matter and the feeling she wants to convey calls for the batik process.

“It’s not exactly realistic, but it is believable,” Umsted said. She has used the Trail of Tears theme in several of her works, including large-scale oil paintings at the Choctaw Casino in Durant and the Choctaw Capitol Museum in Tuskahoma, Oklahoma. With Into the Dream Left Behind, Umsted wanted to provide a contemporary look at the sadness that comes from leaving a homeland. She has always gravitated to bright colors and stripes and wanted to include horses for her dad, a veterinarian, and her husband who loves horses. “The black of the horses and the turquoise both make a big impact,” she said.

Over the years, Umsted has taught art in public schools and as an adjunct at Southeastern. She currently works part time as the director of the campus art gallery. Her artwork has garnered first place recognition from shows including Red Earth, the Choctaw Nation Art Show, the Five Tribes Museum and the Trail of Tears Show. Her work is featured in the Choctaw Tribal Headquarters in Durant, as well as the Pocola Casino and numerous private collections. Her first life-size bronze sculpture will be unveiled later in 2013. The subject is Dixon Durant, founder of Durant, Oklahoma and it will be installed in the city’s historic Market Square. Into the Dream Left Behind was purchased for the Oklahoma Judicial Center collection.