Oosahwee’s artistic life continues to grow
Cherokee artist Harry Oosahwee works on a sculpture at his Tahlequah home. Oosahwee didn’t take a formal art class until he attended Bacone College in Muskogee. COURTESY
Cherokee artist Harry Oosahwee uses Cherokee symbolism in his artwork. He says the history Cherokee elders imparted to him influenced his art. COURTESY
Harry Oosahwee, a Cherokee artist from Tahlequah, performs detail work on a stone sculpture. He says his earliest artistic inspirations came from his family. COURTESY
Examples of sculptures and effigy pipes by Cherokee artist Harry Oosahwee. JACKSON WELLS/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
TAHLEQUAH - Artistic boundaries have never been something to which Cherokee Nation citizen Harry Oosahwee has paid much mind. He said he's created art for decades that carries meaning beyond the Cherokee aesthetic. Through his art, he said he's honored his heritage while experimenting with what can be done in a single piece.
He was born in 1949 in Tahlequah to Andy and Becky Oosahwee, one of eight children. He grew up in the predominantly Cherokee-speaking community of Moneybean Hollow. Communicating in mostly Cherokee, he began learning English at age 6. By the fifth grade, he spoke broken English.
During his childhood, Harry's mother often took him and his siblings hunting for wild onions and mushrooms. Whenever they passed a riverbank, she showed them how to use the bank's clay to make animals, as she did when she was a child. These moments, he said, were his earliest artistic inspirations.
He spent his elementary school years at Shady Grove where he began developing artistic capabilities. He sad he remembers his brother being able to draw well, so he decided to take up the form. Rather than culture, his initial focus was architecture - specifically haunted houses.
“They have a lot of different angles, shades, dilapidated buildings…they looked really nice,” Harry said.
He later attended Hulbert High School where his interest in art had only increased. However, the school didn't offer art classes. So he found ways to implement drawing when he could such as turning in drawings for his assignments.
“I didn't have any idea what art really was, but drawing was something I enjoying doing,” Harry said.
Everything changed when he started Bacone College in Muskogee. It was there he took his first art class - introductory painting. He found himself intimidated by his peers. Many of them were established artists with years of formal training and burgeoning careers. Nevertheless, he persevered and passed. He also found a new focus, one that changed his art careers' trajectory.
“(In Bacone), I saw what Indian art really was,” he said.
As Harry began taking on more art media such as stone and woodcarving, clay and ceramics, his focus became increasingly influenced by his Cherokee background. Eventually his heritage found its way into all his art. He was influenced by the history the Cherokee elders imparted to him. Today, he still uses Cherokee symbolism while borrowing from other influences.
“There's always going to be some kind of traditional aspect to my art,” he said.
He's also taking on more art projects. In the past eight years, he's started carving effigy pipes from stone. His “War and Peace” pipe, one of his latest projects, honors those in his family who served in the military. He drew and sold every Native leader from a book he owns, save for a picture of Sitting Bull he kept. His other passion, teaching the Cherokee language, has also crossed over into his art. He's working on a book full of his drawings with text in Cherokee.
Now retired, he no longer waits for holidays and weekends to work on his art. As of this writing, he was working on a piece in a studio he visits in Locust Grove owned by fellow Cherokee artist Bill Glass. The piece titled “One Fire, One Nation” symbolizes the unification of the three Cherokee tribes by having a citizen of each surround a central figure with the sacred fire underneath.
“(My art) is hopefully to provoke, to educate, to interpret the world in a different perspective,” Harry said.
ᏓᎷᏈ- Ꮎ ᏣᎳᎩ ᎠᏰᎵ ᎨᎳ, Harry Oosawhee, Ꮭ ᎰᏩ ᎪᎱᏍᏗ ᏗᏟᎶᏍᏙᏗ ᏳᏭᎵᏍᏙᎢ ᏳᏪᎵᏐᎢ. Ꮎ ᏄᏛᏁᎸ ᏚᏟᎶᏍᏓᏅ ᏃᏊ ᎢᎸᏍᎩ ᏧᏕᏘᏴᏓ ᎤᎶᎲᏍᏓ Ꮎ ᏣᎳᎩ ᏥᏄᏬᏚᎰᎢ, ᎤᏛᏅᎢ. Ꮎ ᎤᏬᏢᏅᏂᏙᎸ, ᎦᎸᏉᏓᏅ ᎥᎿ ᏧᎾᏓᎴᏅᏓ ᏳᎾᏛᏁᎸ ᎾᎯᏳ ᎠᏁᎵᏓᏂᏙᎰ ᎦᏙᎤᏍᏗ ᏲᎬᎦ ᏌᏊ ᎬᏂᏓᏅᎢ.
1949 ᏓᎷᏈ ᎤᏕᏁᏅᎢ, Andy ᎠᎴ Becky Oosawhee ᏧᎦᏴᎵ ᎨᏎᎢ, ᏣᏁᎳ ᎾᏂi ᏚᎾᏝᏅᏢᎢ. ᏣᎳᎩ ᏭᎪᏛ ᎠᏂᏬᏂᏍᎨ ᏣᏛᏍᎬᎢ ᎥᎿ Moneybean Hollow. ᏣᎳᎩᎭ ᏭᎪᏛ ᎠᏂᏬᏂᏍᎨᎢ, ᎬᏂᎩᎳ ᏑᏓᎵ ᎢᏳᏕᏘᏴᏓ ᎤᎴᏅᎮ ᏲᏁᎦ ᎦᏬᏂᏍᎬᎢ. ᎯᏍᎩᏁᏃ ᏕᎧᏂᏙᎲ ᏭᎷᏣ, ᎡᎷᏊ ᎢᏳᏍᏗᎭ ᏲᏁᎦ ᎦᏬᏂᏍᎨᎢ.
ᏣᏛᏍᎬᏃ, ᎤᏥ ᏓᏘᏁᎨ ᏗᏂᏲᏟ ᎢᎾᎨ ᏗᏜ. ᎤᏂᏯᎴᎨ ᎢᎾᎨ ᎡᎯ ᏒᎩ ᎠᎴ ᏓᏬᎵ. ᎾᎥ ᏳᏂᎶᏌ ᎠᎹ ᎡᏉᏄᎶᏗ, ᎨᏥᏰᏲᎲᏍᎨ ᏗᎪᏢᏂᏗ ᎢᎾᎨ ᎠᏁᎯ Ꮎ ᎬᏂᏗᎲ ᎠᎹ ᎡᏉᏄᎶᏗ ᎦᏙᎢ, Ꮎ ᏥᎾᏛᏁᎲ ᎠᎨᏳᏣ ᏥᎨᏒᎢ. ᎯᎠ ᎠᏓᏅᏖᏍᎪ, ᎠᎬᏱ ᎤᎴᏅᎮ ᎤᏚᎵᏍᎬ ᏧᏟᎶᏍᏙᏗᎢ, ᎤᏛᏅᎢ.
ᎠᏧᏣᏃ ᏥᎨᏒ Shady Grove ᏚᏕᎶᏆᎥᎢ, ᎠᎾ ᎤᏕᎸᎰᏒ ᎤᏣᏘ ᎦᎸᏉᏗᎲᎢ ᏧᏟᎶᏍᏙᏗᎢ. ᎠᏓᏂᏘᏍᎪ Ꮎ ᎠᎬᏱᎡᎯ ᏗᎾᏓᏅᏟ ᎣᏏᏊ ᎠᎦᏔᎮ ᏧᏟᎶᏍᏙᏗᎢ, ᎾᎯᏳᏃ ᏚᏭᎦᏓᏅ ᎤᏠᏱ ᏄᏛᏂᏗᎢ. ᎠᏎᏃ ᏂᎨᏒᎾ Ꮎ ᎢᏯᏛᏁᎵᏓᏍᏗ ᏧᏟᎶᏍᏙᏗ ᏳᏚᎵᎮᎢ , Ꮎ ᏕᎫᎦᏗᎮᎢ ᏗᏂᏁᏍᎩᏍᏗ ᏧᏟᎶᏍᏙᏍᏗᎢ ᎠᏑᏰᏍᎨᎢ, ᎤᏟᏃᎨᏒ ᎠᏂᏥᎩᎵ ᏣᏁᎰ ᏓᏓᏁᎸᎢ. “ᏧᎵᏍᏈᏍᏗ ᏧᏓᎴᏅᏓ ᏓᏍᏓᏅᏃᎢ, ᏚᏓᏫᏗᏍᏛᎢ, ᏧᏲᏣᏅ ᏓᏓᏁᎶᎢ...ᎣᏍᏓ ᏗᎧᏂᏗ ᏕᎨᏐᎢ,” ᎤᏛᏅ Harry.
ᎣᏂᏃ Hulbert High School ᏚᏕᎶᏆᎥ, ᎠᏎᏃ Ꮟ ᏧᏟᎶᏍᏙᏗ ᎤᏚᎵᏍᎬ ᎤᎧᏁᏉᏨᎢ. ᎠᏎᏃ ᏧᎾᏕᎶᏆᏍᏗ Ꮭ ᏳᏂᎮ ᎥᏍᎩᏳᏍᏗ ᏗᏕᎶᏆᏍᏙᏗ. ᎠᏎᏃ ᎤᏩᏛᎲ ᎤᏢᏅᏛ ᏧᏟᎶᏍᏙᏗᎢ, ᏳᏓᎲ ᏫᏗᎦᏅᏍᎬ ᏧᏟᎶᏍᏓᏅ ᎠᏎᏃ ᏂᎨᏒᎾ ᏗᏕᎶᏆᏍᏙᏗ ᎠᏥᏅᏒᎢ.
”ᏝᏙ ᏱᎪᎵᎨ ᎤᏰᎵᏛ Ꮎ ᏕᎦᏟᎶᏍᏗᎲᎢ. ᎠᏎᏃ ᎥᏍᎩᎾ ᎤᏙᎯᏳ ᎠᎩᎸᏉᏛ ᏕᎦᏟᎶᏍᏗᎲᎢ,” ᎤᏛᏅ Harry.
ᏂᎦᏓᏃ ᎤᏓᏁᏟᏴᏏᏙᎸ ᎦᎸᎳᏗ ᏚᏕᎵᏆᎥᏒ Bacone College ᎥᎿ ᎫᏐᎢ. ᎠᎾᏃ ᎠᎬᏱ ᎠᏓᏃᏎ ᎠᏑᏫᏍᏗ ᏗᏟᎶᏍᏙᏗ ᎤᏖᎳᏛ. ᎠᎾ ᎤᏕᎶᎰᏒ ᎡᏍᎦ (ᏄᎵᏍᏓᏁᎲᎢ) ᎬᏩᏂᏓᏗᏍᎨᏍᎨ ᎥᎿ ᎠᏂᏐ ᏗᎾᏕᎶᏆᏍᎩ. ᎦᏳᎳ ᎢᎸᏍᎩ ᎠᏂᎦᏔᎾᎡᎢ ᏧᎾᏕᎶᏆᎥᎢ ᎠᎴ ᎠᎾᎢᏒ ᎤᏂᎧᏁᏉᏍᏓᏅ ᎨᏎᎢ. ᎠᏎᏃ, ᏍᏓᏯ ᏚᎶᏫᏍᏓᏁᎸᎢ, ᎠᎴ ᏚᎶᏎᎢ, ᏃᎴ ᏄᏓᎴ ᎬᏂᎨᏒ ᎤᏩᏛᎲᎢ ᏧᏟᎶᏍᏙᏗᎢ.
“(ᎥᎿ Bacone), ᎤᏙᎯᏳ ᎠᎩᎪᎲ ᎦᏙᎤᏍᎢ ᎠᏂᏴᏫᏯ ᏄᏍᏛᏗᏟᎶᏍᏙᏗᎢ,” ᎤᏛᏅ.
Ꮓ ᎤᎪᏛ ᎢᏳᏍᏗᎭ ᎤᎴᏅᎮ ᎪᏢᏅᏍᎬᎢ; ᏅᏯ, ᎠᏓ ᎠᏲᏢᏍᎬ, ᎦᏓ, ᎠᎴ ᏅᏯ ᎢᏳᏍᏗ, ᎤᎦᏎᏍᏓᏅ ᎤᎪᏓ ᏣᎳᎩ ᎤᏤᎵ ᏄᏍᏗᏓᏅᎢ.ᎡᎷᏊᏃ ᏧᎾᏓᎴᏅᏓ ᏓᏠᏯᏍᏗᎮ ᏓᏟᎶᏍᏓᏅ. ᏧᎦᏴᎵ ᎦᏩᏃᏎᎸᏅ Ꮎ ᎠᏂᏣᎳᎩ ᏧᏂᎶᏒ ᏄᎵᏍᏓᏂᏙᎸᎢ. ᎪᎯᏥᎩ Ꮟ ᎬᏂᏗᎰᎢ Ꮎ ᏣᎳᎩ ᎤᏙᏢᏒᏅᎢ ᏃᎴ ᎠᏙᎵᏙᎰᎢ ᎠᏂᏐᎢ ᎾᏓᏛᏂᏌᏁᎲ.
“ᎠᏎᏃ ᎾᎪᎯᎸ ᎧᏃᎮᎸᏅ ᎪᎱᏍᏗ ᎤᎵᏧᏰᏍᏗ ᏗᎦᏟᎶᏍᏗᎲᎢ,” ᎤᏛᏅᎢ.
ᏃᎴ ᎤᎪᏓ ᎾᏛᏁᎵᏙᎯ ᎪᏢᏅᏍᎬᎢ, ᎯᎠ ᏧᎶᎲᏍᏓ ᏣᏁᎳ ᏧᏕᏘᏴᏓ ᎤᎴᏅᎲ ᏕᎪᏢᏍᎬ ᏅᏯᎭ ᏗᏲᏝᏅ ᎦᏅᏃᏩ. Ꮎ “ᏓᎿᏩ ᎠᎴ ᏅᏩᏙᎯᏯᏓ” ᎦᏅᏃᏩ, ᎯᎠ ᎣᏂ ᏥᎪᏢᏂᏙᎯ, ᏕᎦᎸᏉᏓᏅ ᎥᎿ ᏏᏓᏁᎸ ᎠᏂᏲᏍᎩ ᎤᏂᏴᏢᎢ.
ᏧᏟᎶᏍᏓᏅ ᎠᎴ ᏂᎦᏓ ᏚᏂᏗᏅᏒ ᎦᏰᎯᏯ ᏗᏂᏘᏂᏙᎯ ᎪᏪᎳ ᏗᎪᎵᏰᏗ ᏚᎾᎥᎢ, ᎠᏎᏃ ᎤᎵᏏᏂᏓᏅ Ꮎ ᏕᎦᏟᎶᏍᏓᏅ “Sitting Bull.” ᏃᎴ ᎤᎸᏉᏙ ᏣᎳᎩ ᏧᏕᏲᏗᎢ, ᎥᏍᎩᏃ ᏭᏠᏯᏍᏙᎢ ᏓᏟᎶᏍᏗᎲᎢ. ᏃᏊᎨᏒ, ᏗᎪᏪᎸᏍᎦ ᏗᏣᎳᎩᎭ ᏕᎪᏪᎸ ᎠᎴ ᏓᏟᎶᏍᏗᎭ.
ᏃᏊᎨᏒ ᏙᎢ ᏄᏛᎿᏕᎪᎢ, Ꮭ ᎠᏎ ᏯᎦᏘᏲ ᏓᎾᎵᎮᎵᎬ ᎢᎦ ᎠᎴ ᏯᎦᏘᏲ ᏒᎾᏙᏓᏆᏍᎩ ᎠᎵᏍᏆᏗᏍᎬ ᏧᎶᏫᏍᏓᏁᏗ ᎪᏢᏅᏍᎬᎢ. ᏃᏊ ᎨᏒ ᎯᎠ (ᏥᎪᏪᎸᏍᎦ), ᎠᏲᏢᏍᎦ ᎥᎿ ᎧᏅᏑᎸ ᎪᏢᏅᏍᏗ ᎠᏓᏁᎸᎢ ᎥᎿ ᎧᎶᏪᎩᏗᎢ, Ꮎ ᎤᏤᎵᎪ ᎤᎾᎵ ᎪᏢᏅᏍᎩ, Bill Glass ᏧᏙᎢᏓ. Ꮎ ᏣᏲᏢᏍᎦ, “ᏌᏊ ᎪᏛ, ᏌᏊ ᎠᏰᎵ ᎤᏙᏢᏒ” ᏧᏙᎢᏓ. ᎯᎠ ᏚᎾᎵᎪᏒ ᏦᎢ ᏗᏂᏣᎳᎩ ᎠᏂᎳᏍᏓᎸ ᏌᏊᎭ ᎨᎳ ᎤᎾᏕᏯᏍᏛ ᎠᏰᏟ ᎪᏢᏅ ᎥᎿ ᎦᎸᏍᏗᏳᏗ ᎪᏛ ᎭᏫᎾᏗᏜ.
“(ᎠᏬᏢᎾᏅ ᎠᏆᏤᎵ) ᎡᎷᏊ ᎠᏖᎸᎲᏍᏙᏗ, ᎠᏕᎶᏍᏆᏍᏙᏗ, ᎠᏁᎵᏙᏗ Ꮎ ᎡᎶᎯ ᎥᎿ ᏄᏓᎴ ᎠᎪᏩᏛᏗ,” ᎤᏛᏅ Harry.