TULSA, Okla. – The Osage Nation, along with the Tulsa Historical Society and Museum, celebrated the legacies of Osage ballerinas and sisters Maria and Marjorie Tallchief on Oct. 29 with an event featuring dance and culture performances and invited dignitaries as the city issued a proclamation declaring that Sunday as Maria and Marjorie Tallchief Day.
The Nation, in partnership with the United States Mint, the Smithsonian American Women’s History Museum, and the Tulsa Historical Society, hosted the occasion to celebrate Osage prima ballerina Maria Tallchief’s image and Osage name being featured on the 10th coin in the American Women Quarters™ Program this year.
Also that afternoon, the event opened with an unveiling of a new bronze statue of Marjorie Tallchief, whose original statue, created by Monte England and Gary Henson and unveiled in 2007, was stolen last year from the Five Moons sculpture garden, located on the front lawn of the museum located along South Peoria Avenue.
Amid the weekend rains and dropping fall season temperatures that day, much of the event festivities took place under a heated outdoor tent with stage and seating for the program.
Cray Bauxmont-Flynn, interim executive director for Tulsa Historical Society, said the coin’s commemoration is “a very momentous occasion that came together and fortunately and unfortunately that the coin release happened at the same time as the reinstallation and rededication of (Marjorie Tallchief’s statue), so it’s important that their legacy continues on. And the five women, The Five Moons altogether, are re-recognized for what they’ve done for the arts.”
According to the historical society, “The sculpture garden, first dedicated in 2007, features the Five Moons of American Ballet: Marjorie Tallchief, her elder sister Maria Tallchief, Moscelyne Larkin (Eastern Shawnee/Peoria), Rosella Hightower (Choctaw), and Yvonne Chouteau (Shawnee). The statues were created by two local artists, Monte England and Gary Henson. England worked on two of the pieces before his death in 2005, and Henson completed the project.”
In wake of the statue theft, Bauxmont-Flynn (Cherokee/ Delaware) added “there’s been a generous donation, contribution from Osage Casinos where we are going to be installing some security lighting and improving the gardens for the Five Moons. The theft happened over a year ago, unfortunately (the Marjorie statue) was chopped up into pieces (and sold for scrap metal), they did catch the culprit, but unfortunately there was nothing we could do legally. Gary Henson put her back together and she’s brand new and back home.”
For the celebration, Bauxmont-Flynn said “the importance of having Maria on the coin and Marjorie Tallchief statue is the recognition of what these ladies have provided for Native Americans, but also for people in the arts and dancing.”
Bauxmont-Flynn read the Maria and Marjorie Tallchief Day proclamation issued by Tulsa Mayor GT Bynum’s office, which stated the sisters left their marks “on the world of dance” and presented the proclamation to attending Tallchief family members.
“And whereas the Tallchief sisters, both citizens of the Osage Nation, have brought immense pride to our city and serve as role models for aspiring dancers,” Bauxmont-Flynn read from the proclamation.
The Marjorie Tallchief statue unveiling at the museum garden included her grandchildren Nathalie Skibine (daughter of Alex Skibine) and Adrian Tallchief Skibine (son of George Skibine).
According to a description of the quarter featuring Maria Tallchief’s image: “’The Maria Tallchief Quarter’ depicts Maria in one of her break-out roles, ‘The Firebird,’ in a spotlit balletic pose.
Significantly, Maria’s Osage name is etched on the coin, an act of tribal sovereignty guided by numerous Osage leaders, including Dr. Herman Mongrain Lookout, Vann Bighorse, and Chad Renfro. ‘Wa-Xthe-Thoṉba,’ her Osage name highlighted on the coin, translates to ‘Two Standards’ and was given to Tallchief by the Osage Tribal Council when the state of Oklahoma created ‘Maria Tallchief Day’ on June 29, 1953. The name was selected by her grandmother, Eliza Bigheart Tall Chief, to reflect Tallchief’s life in two worlds – as an Osage woman who danced to traditional songs and as a prima ballerina who danced her way into the hearts of ballet lovers worldwide.”
Family members attending included Maria Tallchief’s daughter Elise Paschen, who is a poet and expressed thanks to attendees, including “thank you to the U.S. Mint for the image of my mother on both the quarter and the dollar coin this year. The U.S. Mint closely involved the family in the creation of these coins and I’ve been working with the Mint since the summer of 2021. Thanks to those consultants we enlisted, Chad Renfro, along with the Osage Nation Language Department.”
Renfro, an interior designer and former Osage Foundation Board member, was involved with the design process, stating “I was strongly a proponent of (the U.S. Mint) using our language and so I said ‘hey, we have this as a font, how about including our language on the quarter’ and further cementing the fact that we’re still here, we’re strong, we have a presence and our language is still in existence, we’re not extinct and not relics.”
Paschen told the attendees: “Throughout my life, my mother has served as an inspiration. At an early age, she instilled in me the importance of devoting yourself to a life’s passion. As a backstage baby, I was able to witness my mother transform into magical creatures – a firebird, a swan queen, the sugarplum fairy. After she retired from the stage, I watched her create a ballet company in Chicago transmitting to her students and her dancers all she had learned as a Prima Ballerina.”
The afternoon performances that day included:
- Singing performances in the Osage language by students attending Daposka Ahnkodapi, which is the Nation’s private school in Pawhuska.
- Wahzhazhe Ballet performances including: “Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy” and “Cavalier Pas de Deux” from The Nutcracker with dancers Liliana Guillen Hudgins and Xavier Reeves. Choreography by Jenna LaViolette.
- Ballet performance of “Odette Variation” by Osage dancer Seeley Grace Card.
- Performance by the Grayhorse District Taildancers. They danced to a song composed for Henry Tallchief.
Principal Chief Geoffrey Standing Bear said to the Tallchief family members “it is an honor to see you all together” and “it’s a blessing to be here, so God bless all of you and God bless the Osage Nation.”
Standing Bear also recognized invited guest United States Treasurer and 18th Chief of the Mohegan Nation Marilynn Malerba. “I stand here today as an Indigenous woman celebrating another Indigenous woman and that is very special to me. It is so special to me to see how this day and all of your days are grounded in the Osage culture and history. I appreciate the Wahzhazhe Ballet and the students from Daposka, the immersion school, for sharing their talents with us. That was very special to hear your language spoken and to see such wonderful dancers.”
“You are also leaving footprints on the path for those who will come after you so that they may find their way easily, that’s a very special thing to do,” Malerba told the attendees. “As I learned more about Maria Tallchief and her accomplishments, it seems fitting that her Osage name is translated as ‘woman of two standards’ because clearly she learned how to walk in two worlds with grace, style, beauty and culture.”
Another invited guest included Misty Copeland, former principal dancer for American Ballet Theatre and the first African American woman to earn the position in the company’s history. “Thank you so much for inviting me to be part of a special moment, I never imagined I would have any chance of being connected to Maria Tallchief… thank you to Elise, thank you Russ (Tallchief, cousin to Elise), the Tallchief family, thank you for your openness and passion in keeping Maria’s legacy alive and I feel privileged to be here today in celebration of both Maria and Marjorie Tallchief,” Copeland said.
Representatives from the U.S. Mint attended and passed out free cardboard coin holders for the five 2023 American Women Quarters with one new quarter featuring Tallchief’s image. There are holes in the cardboard for the four other quarters featuring notable figures including: Aviator Bessie Coleman (the first African American and Native American woman pilot); Indigenous Hawaiian composer, chanter and culture custodian Edith Kanaka’ole; First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt; and Mexican-American Journalist and Teacher Jovita Idar.
For more information on the U.S. Mint and the American Women Quarters series, visit www.usmint.gov
Maria Tallchief (1925 – 2013) was born to Alex and Ruth Porter Tallchief in Fairfax and as a young girl excelled at dance and playing piano. In 1933, Alex and Ruth moved Maria and her sister Marjorie to California where they began more formalized ballet training under Ernest Belcher and later Bronislava Nijinska, a respected Russian dancer and choreographer, and sister to the esteemed Russian dancer Vaslav Nijinsky.
After graduating from Beverly Hills High School at the age of 17, Maria went to New York and earned a spot in the preeminent Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo. George Balanchine, an acclaimed Russian dancer and choreographer, joined the company in 1943. Maria and Balanchine married in 1946 and the couple went on to originate some of the most iconic roles still performed in ballet today, including Swan Lake, Orpheus, The Firebird, and The Nutcracker. Although the couple’s marriage was annulled, together they revolutionized ballet in America and continued to work together during the rise of the New York City Ballet as a leader in the ballet world.
In 1956, Maria married Henry “Buzz” Paschen – her “blue-eyed sailor,” as she called him. Their daughter, Elise, was born in 1959. Tallchief retired from performing in the 1960s and founded the ballet school of the Lyric Opera and served as artistic director at the Chicago City Ballet.
Marjorie Tallchief (1926 – 2021) was the first American and first indigenous woman to earn the rank of première danseuse étoile at the Paris Opéra Ballet. Marjorie was married to artistic director, ballet master, and choreographer George Skibine. Their twin sons, Alexander and George, grew up surrounded by ballet and went on to become attorneys with expertise in indigenous law.
Marjorie performed with the American Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo (1946-47), the Grand Ballet du Marquis de Cuevas (1948-55), Ruth Page’s Chicago Opera Ballet (guest artist, 1958–62), and the Harkness Ballet (prima ballerina, 1964–66). Her most acclaimed roles were performed in Night Shadow (1950), Annabel Lee (1951), Idylle (1954), Romeo and Juliet (1955), and Giselle (1957). She served as director of dance for the Civic Ballet Academy in Dallas, Texas, and for the Chicago City Ballet. In 1989, she became the director of dance for the Harid Conservatory in Boca Raton, FL, where she remained until her retirement in 1993.
Marjorie was the last surviving dancer of the “Five Moons,” a group of indigenous ballerinas from Oklahoma who rose to fame during the 20th century. Maria and Marjorie, along with Rosella Hightower (1920 – 2008), Moscelyne Larkin (1925 – 2012), and Yvonne Chouteau (1929 – 2016), comprised the Five Moons, who were also featured in Chickasaw artist Mike Larsen’s tribute mural “Flight of Spirit,” located in the Great Rotunda of the Oklahoma State Capitol.