Press Release

Release Date: April 04, 2024
by Chickasaw Nation Media Relations Office

Artist Regina Free had a challenging assignment in her 3-D art class; create an art piece using only paper products. Wood, paint and metal were not options. The sculpture, a massive blue heron, marked the beginning of Free’s next era, the artist, a title she had tucked away for years to tend to life’s responsibilities such as motherhood and business owner.

Free spent more than 250 hours working on the blue heron. It was larger than life. When her class ended, she wasn’t sure what to do with her art piece until she spotted the call for artists for the Chickasaw Nation Southeastern Art Show and Market (SEASAM) last fall.

She entered the heron in the juried competition and won the best of 3-D class. It also greeted guests to her booth at December’s Hushtola’ Art Market at WinStar World Resort, Thackerville, Oklahoma.

Free, a Chickasaw citizen, of Newkirk, Oklahoma, is now preparing for the Artesian Arts Festival, April 13, in Sulphur, Oklahoma. It is only the second time she has participated in the annual First American arts festival.

Free studied art in the ‘90s as a student-athlete at Oklahoma State University. A member of the Cowgirls softball team, she had to divide her time between the studio and the playing field. This situation left little time for classes in sculpture, pottery and other mediums.

When a flood destroyed the bulk of her portfolio her senior year, Free pivoted after earning a bachelor in fine art and pursued a career in education.

“I taught (art) for three or four years, and I really enjoyed it,” she said.

Marriage, working to get the family business afloat and children followed, leaving her little time for creative expression.

“I had to pick one, and so I gave up what I loved for what I loved more, which is my family,” an emotional Free said.

Now that her children are older and the family business is established, the mother-of-three is revisiting her innate drive to create art. She began taking art classes in 2022 at a nearby college to learn new techniques and mediums.

While she was taking a sculpture class, the instructor assigned the all-paper project and set a short deadline for completion.

“I made it small at first, and I was like, ‘Oh this will not do, it’s got to be life-size or bigger,’ and so I did it. Then halfway through, I was (wondering) what was I thinking doing something so big in paper. You begin to question is this really worth it, but it was in the end. It was kind of like my expression of wanting to do some sculptures so bad, so I just went all-out on that one.”

Watercolor, color pencil graphite and ink are her comfort zone, but she is branching out with oil painting and pottery, something she had never experienced before taking the community college class.

As she is developing new techniques, Free is researching and incorporating more of her Chickasaw heritage, which comes from her mother’s side of the family, into her work.

“I absolutely loved a (pottery) class so I’m looking forward to making some effigy bowls. I’ve been doing lots of research about the effigy bowls, and so I’m pretty excited that when I get that technique down to be able to start doing some of those. “When I started researching the effigy bowls it was eye-opening, the skill and craftsmanship and the heritage that is in the bowls. It makes you proud to be part of that legacy. I’m trying to do a lot of research so I can pay honor to their craftsmanship and then maybe get good enough where I can do some variations, and I don’t do disservice to their creativity.”

Learning the history of effigy bowls, pipes and gorgets has been a good way of learning about her own First American culture and heritage and help preserve it, she said.

“For some reason my grandmother was separated from the (Chickasaw) culture, so I didn’t know a lot about it. Someone’s got to keep it going, so it’s been eye-opening and enjoyable.”

Animals are a favorite subject of Free’s art. Her husband is a large and small animal veterinarian, and caring for animals has been central in the family’s day-to-day life for decades.

“I try to not only render the animals accurately, but I want to catch the essence or spirit of what makes up that creature. I usually pay great attention to the eyes, because that is the area which will make or break the image.

I also pay attention to anatomical features and try to do it justice and empower the subject matter,” Free said.

A draft horse drawing entitled “Self Portrait” is one of her favorite pieces. A rendition of a 1900s photograph, the large horse is struggling to carry a burden, which is out of frame. A poster of the photograph hung in the veterinary clinic until it was damaged during a remodel. Instead of buying a replacement, Free decided to draw the photo as a gift to her husband. As she toiled on her kitchen table to finish the piece, the white ink and sepia pencil project evolved to symbolize Free’s struggle to maintain balance in her life.

“It’s so powerful. It summarized my battle of not doing my artwork, but like I said you give up something you love for something you love more and so you just push, just get your stuff done. Do what you need to do, and you’ll get there.

“That horse was just getting through it. That burden behind the horse can be anyone’s struggle. It’s really anyone’s self-portrait, and for me it was that desire to do art but knowing there was something more.”

“Self Portrait” is framed with materials reclaimed from a 1950s round pen, symbolic of its original purpose and the illusion of the imperfect circumstances that surround us all, she said. While her children were little, when she had an idea for an art piece, she would sketch it and tuck it away for later.

“Because I knew those sketches will be there, but the time with my kids won’t. I couldn’t do service to both, and so I put the one aside.”

Free and her husband, Adam, have three children, Mada, 19, Adyn, 15 and Readyn, 13.
She credits her husband for supporting her artistic endeavors. He built the display case for the heron and leads set up for her art show booths.

“Adam rearranges his schedule so he and the kids can be part of the festivals,” she said. “My children are super supportive and gracious too, especially when the meals turn into frozen pizzas when I’m trying to push through and finish a project.”

About the Artesian Arts Festival

The 11th annual Artesian Arts Festival, a daylong celebration of First American art and culture, is Saturday, April 13, at the Artesian Plaza.

More than 100 First American artists from across the United States are expected to participate, displaying a vast array of original, diverse art. Festivities run from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Hosted by the Chickasaw Nation, the annual Artesian Arts Festival also features First American dance, entertainment and food vendors.

The Artesian Arts Festival takes place at the Artesian Plaza, adjacent to the Artesian Hotel and Spa, 1001 W. First St., Sulphur.

For more information, contact Chickasaw Nation Arts & Humanities at (580) 272-5520, visit or email ArtistInfo@