Greater Tulsa Indian Art Festival hits 31 years
GLENPOOL – Native artists from Oklahoma and out-of-state tribes gathered to show their works and educate the public about their crafts Feb. 9-11 at the 31st Greater Tulsa Indian Art Festival.
The festival, the largest inter-tribal fine art show in the Tulsa area, also ranks among the best fine art shows for genuine Native art in the country. Chairman Robert Trepp said the event began in 1987 and was inspired by the cast of the 1984 American Indian Theater Company production “Black Elk Speaks.”
“It was really inspired by a lot of the cast from ‘Black Elk Speaks’ that was put on here in Tulsa, and it’s just grown through the years,” Trepp said. “It’s nationally known. It’s got a big emphasis on Eastern Woodlands cultures, which most shows do not have.”
Volunteers largely run the festival as it draws various artists including painters, potters and jewelers.
“We have artists from all over the country,” Trepp said. “I think for local artists it’s an opportunity for them especially to see each other again and to have that fellowship to share ideas, compare notes as to what they’ve been up to. And for our people out of state, it’s an opportunity for them to come and meet with our local artists.”
Trepp said the festival especially emphasizes citizens of local tribes, including Cherokees.
“The Cherokee are one of the largest tribes in the country, and they sit right here. Their territory wraps all the way around the Tulsa metropolitan area,” he said. “They have a huge influence on Native people and relationships with Native people here in Tulsa.”
The GTIAF 2018 Featured Artist was Jane Osti, a Cherokee National Treasure whose pottery piece “Woodland Song” was chosen for this year’s festival poster.
“This is one of the first shows that I did when I started doing art and selling art,” Osti said. “This is a good nurturing ground and you don’t get too big for it either. You can still do the show even though it might have been one of your starting shows.”
Osti said she’s been doing pottery for more than 30 years and makes her Woodland pieces “the traditional way.”
“I make pottery the old way, the traditional way of hand coiling and they are usually kiln-fired first and then wood-fired,” she said. “The designs and the shapes, a lot of them are from our very old pottery, but sort of moved around in a contemporary way. My teacher was Anna Mitchell, master Cherokee potter and that was the way she did pottery. Just about any Cherokee making pottery has either learned from Anna, or learned from one of us that has learned from her…”
Osti said most people only recognize Southwest pottery, but that she’s seeing a shift.
“A few people are noticing the Woodland Pottery and the Woodland works in general,” she said. “I make pottery and teach it. It’s the way I make a living, but it’s also to ensure that we keep doing our traditional work and passing it on, educating the general public and our customers about our Woodland pottery.”
Cherokee Nation citizen Ryan Lee Smith conducted painting demonstrations to give the public a peek into his creative process.
“It’s hard for me to engage, and that’s what I want to do. I want to show it to people. That’s the reason I do it,” he said. “It gives them insight to the process I’m going through. It might make no sense to them on site, but it allows me to relax and get in my comfort zone.”
Smith said much of his work is influenced by nature, as well as from stories his grandmother passed down to him.
“My grandmother taught me little things like what bird makes this sound and how to grow tomatoes and all these core things that I didn’t know were important until I got older,” he said. “These birds and all these animals, all these things, they were like characters in a story to me, all of them throughout growing up. They seem to be the most honest depiction of things.”
He describes his work as “simple” and “a little tongue-in-cheek,” but hopes that it’s humorous to the public and inspires a “good” feeling.
Smith said he doesn’t worry about rules when it comes to medium or his vibrant color choices.
“As far as the rules, the technical training that I’ve had in grad school and undergrad where they tell you what paint to use on what surface and what type of brush and all that, I feel like it’s almost like they taught me what not to do,” he said. “It just is a little more liberating to break tradition.
The things just sort of find their place, and I’m just kind of like a landlord. I don’t know what I would do if I couldn’t do this.”