#BeltLineArt: Addison Karl on Itti’ kapochcha to’li’

Addison Karl is no stranger to the Atlanta BeltLine. The Chickasaw and Choctaw visual artist collaborated on a project for Art on the Atlanta BeltLine with public mural artist Emmanuel Jarus in 2015, and their subsequent collaboration for the 2016 Exhibition, Purple Rain, can still be enjoyed on the Northeast Trail. For the Art on the Atlanta BeltLine 2021-2022 Exhibition, Addison Karl shows us the diversity of his artistic range with the cast-iron sculpture, Itti’ kapochcha to’li’.

Itti’ kapochcha to’li’ or “little brother of war” is the Chickasaw name for a game also known as ‘stickball’. Played by tribal nations for thousands of years, including the Woodland nations of the Southeastern United States—Chickasaw, Choctaw, Cherokee, Creek, and Seminole— the game was enjoyed by both men and women for sportsmanship, mental health, medicine, and even political resolution in lieu of war.

“I grew up with stories about toli from my grandfather,” Addison shares. “The toli sticks I made, they’re a reference to the toli sticks my grandfather had.”

In Progress Clay – Drawing & Rendering

Looming six-feet tall, much larger than his grandfather’s toli, which hung as a centerpiece in his grandparents’ home on the O’odham Reservation in Arizona, two toli sticks jut out of the landscape along the Eastside  Trail at the Historic Fourth Ward Skate Park, defying physics as they balance against one another in a crossed position as if to say, “start game”.

Unlike the hard wood and leather of traditional toli sticks, though, Karl’s Itti’ kapochcha to’li’ is made to look like wood, yet it is cast in solid iron from minerals pulled from the region—a nod to the material used in the southeast by the Woodland nations. Finally, alluding to stone, a turquoise-colored patina finishes off the full, mixed media experience.

“With these toli sticks, I can tell the stories of my grandfather and that is the culture being passed down and manifesting in different materials.”

Itti’ kapochcha to’li’ was cast at Sloss Furnaces in Birmingham, AL with minerals from the region. It stands as a tribute to the players of this ancient game– past, present, and future.

Addison spent much of his childhood drawing with his “more artistic” middle brother. A high school art teacher pushed him into oil painting, and after graduation, he took up printmaking, which gave his drawings the focus and foundation he needed to hone his skills.

“The creativity and desire to make something has always been there. It was just a matter of how and where and what,” he muses of his professional journey. “It took me a long time to realize you could be a visual artist and find a way to do public art and galleries.”

He ran a private printmaking studio in Seattle for over fifteen years before he began exploring how to apply his printmaking techniques to his painting. Inspired by Barry McGee and other like artists, he started doing outside public art.

“I realized art doesn’t have to be in a gallery or an institution. It could be outside and a little bit more accessible. You could just make work and put it outside! From a graffiti perspective, this really opened my eyes and mind to what could be done.”

Itti’ kapochcha to’li’ can be found on the Eastside Trail near the Freedom Parkway tunnel.

When the Great Recession left him without a home, Addison decided to start over, hitting the open road with his artwork. Once he began applying for legitimate public art opportunities in 2008, his public art career took off.

Splitting his time between Seattle and Italy, his projects have led him to Russia, Mexico, Malaysia, or Pakistan to name a few. A residency at Amazon is among his upcoming ventures, and though he enjoys working outside of reservations, he hopes the future will include some commissions for cultural centers in Oklahoma, including the one near the land allotment that his great grandparents were given following the Trail of Tears.

“I’ve been painting for a long time, and I’ve gotten comfortable in that,” he continues. “Experimenting with different materials to make sculpture over the past five or six years has brought back the mystery of creation—going through the process of what if I use this with that or what if I use this out of context? Having that curiosity again with mixed media for sculpture and being able to tell new stories in a three-dimensional format is really exciting.”

Whatever medium he chooses—whether through painting, sculpture, or public art—Addison Karl seeks to be a visual storyteller, sharing the stories of his grandfather and his Chickasaw and Choctaw culture as a culture bearer.

Which brings us back to Itti’ kapochcha to’li’ and its many layers of connection points that make the project so personal for the artist…

“Georgia doesn’t have any reservations on it, but this game was played on these soils for a long time, and I thought it was important to make these connections. The connection between location and place, between my ancestors and my grandfather, who is now an ancestor.”

“This piece will be very abstract for some people, but I hope some people walk by and ask questions. And maybe they’ll be curious to learn a little more.”

Learn more about stickball.

The Atlanta Beltline is located on the traditional homelands of the Muscogee Creek and Cherokee Peoples. These Indigenous people were displaced through violence and governmental policies in the 1830s to make room for European settlers, culminating in their removal on the Trail of Tears. To find out whose land you are on go here: www.native-land.ca.


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