Stained-glass windows reflect heritage


Tucker Elementary School has a unique approach to celebrating its Choctaw heritage and artistry with stained-glass windows inspired by student artwork. 

The windows were designed and built by the now late Bill Lauderdale of Philadelphia, an employee for the Tribe, who passed away in February of 2007. They were based off student drawings which reflect Choctaw heritage.

The windows were installed when the school was built in 1994, and they celebrate the heritage and artistry of the Choctaw people.

Cynthia Lauderdale Case, widow of the late Bill Lauderdale, said the windows are a treasure that he left behind, and are a great thing to remember him by. 

“The windows are definitely one of the biggest glass projects Bill has ever been involved in,” Case said. “They’re such a beautiful representation of Choctaw heritage.”

Case added that Lauderdale was the Arts in Education Coordinator and the Public Relations Specialist for Choctaw Tribal Schools from 1989 to 1994. 

“After he worked for the Tribe, he opened up his own independent art design business,” she said. “He also worked in McComb, Mississippi and had his own glass studio there. He originally learned about stained glass design when we lived in Atlanta for a year.”

Case said Lauderdale’s life goal was getting to teach art at the college level, which he was able to achieve. 

“Even though he’s gone, he left behind so many things for us to remember him by, and that’s the best thing about things like art and music,” she said. 

Bobby Smith, who worked with Lauderdale and was a cultural education programming teacher, said he ended up working alongside him because they both had the same degree and masters in fine arts, so the Tribe hired them both. 

In the summer of 1994, students were in a program and assigned a theme for the artwork, which all went into a pile that was sorted through and picked from. 

“We were involved in a lot of projects, but this particular one stood out,” Smith said. “The culture and imagery of the art, such as stickball games, drums, star bursts, and more, were the inspiration for the designs. The students sent in their artwork to the committee, it was approved, and Bill was hired on the side to create the panels.” 

Smith said the main theme of the Tribe is self-determination. 

“We knew this artwork was important to the students and community, and it was a simple but effective reflection of Choctaw heritage,” he said. “Getting the art validated the project and gave direction to what needed to be done.”

Smith noted that the designs of the stained glass windows would raise some questions for people who didn’t know much about Choctaw culture, such as stickball being the game the Tribe played, the drums being a symbol for battle, based off the British battle drums, and the star bursts representing a star pattern studied by the Tribe. 

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