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Oklahoma Oral History Research Program Records Native American Artists
By Sarah Milligan
The Oklahoma Native Artist oral history project, a part of the Oklahoma Oral History Research Program since 2010, is uniquely stand-alone. It is not tied to a particular art project, exhibition or collection of paintings, but rather documents the achievements of Oklahoma’s Native American artists in multiple media across the state, while tracking the impact of festivals, collectors, gallery owners and art dealers on the state’s native art scene.
Native women, who currently comprise more than half of the American Indian artists in the state, are especially visible in this collection. Their interviews often reveal a delayed entry into the arts, sometimes after raising a family or as a follow-up to a career in another field. One of the emerging themes from the over 100 interviews in this collection is the way tribal communities’ perceptions of gendered art activities have changed over time, due in part to Native women artists.
From the Belly of Our Being: art by and about Native creation, currently on exhibition at the Oklahoma State University’s Museum of Art features three ONA interviewees: Shan Goshorn, Anita Fields and Molly Murphy Adams. Among other traits, the three women share a fondness for translating cultural objects from one medium into another or employing unexpected materials into traditional art forms.
During our interviews with them, Fields and Goshorn share their connection to nature and creation in these terms:
“When you work with clay, it’s like the earth has this ability to allow you to use it,” Fields says. “Or we’re allowed the ability to use the earth and to transform it into something else. I don’t really know how to verbalize it, but there is some transformation that takes place when the earth allows you to create with it. And if I’m at the studio for days on end, really making something, and touching the clay all day long, sometimes when I come home, I still have the feeling in my hands of, ‘I’m touching this material, this moist earth.’ It doesn’t go away when you stop working.”
Goshorn, who also worked for a time as a volunteer wildlife rehabilitator, makes this observation:
“It is so rewarding to me to get to see the personality of different species of birds. And to have it validate the stories that tribal people tell about birds, about the way that different birds have a part to play in legends, or in the way that you make decisions. That’s the best part of it for me. It’s also a really important part of giving back to the earth.
“We’ve taken so much from our environment ...,” Goshorn says. “It’s all about keeping ourselves well and finding our balance and becoming part of that hoop of life, instead of just thinking we’re at the top of the pyramid all the time. It’s all about being united and being in harmony.”
Come see the works of these three women and 16 other indigenous female artists. The exhibit is guest-curated by ONA advisory board member, heather ahtone, the James T. Bialac Assistant Curator of Native American and Non-Western Art at the Fred Jones Museum, University of Oklahoma.
More stories like this are available for members of the OSU Alumni Association. STATE magazine is a benefit of membership in the OSU Alumni Association. To join or update your membership go to orangeconnection.org/join
Uploaded on September 1, 2016