By SCOTT MCKIE B.P.
ONE FEATHER STAFF
Contemporary Cherokee potters are featured, alongside a traditional Cherokee pottery tradition, in a new exhibit at the Museum of the Cherokee Indian. “People of the Clay: Contemporary Cherokee Potters” opened in the Bertha Smith Saunooke Room of the Museum on the evening of Friday, April 5.
“The main thing I want people to see is how pottery, not only how it has grown from utilitarian, but now it is a way of people making a living and also how it has been handed down through the families,” said Lambert G. Wilson, curator for the “People of the Clay” exhibit. “When you look at the exhibit, you can see the progression of how that happens. I want our young people to continue the art because I believe that once you lose your art, you also lose your culture.”
In a statement going along with the exhibit, Wilson wrote, “Connected by family traditions and culture, the Eastern Band of Cherokee and the Cherokee Nation in Oklahoma continue to work together to ensure that pottery and other art forms of the Cherokee stay alive. Cherokee potters like Rebecca Youngbird, Maude Welch, Cora Wahnetah, the Bigmeat Family, Anna Belle Sixkiller Mitchell, and Jane Osti have kept the craft alive.”
He continued, “‘People of the Clay’ is an attempt to trace Cherokee pottery from its humble beginnings to its prestigious place in the Native American art world. Hopefully, this exhibit will inspire others to collect, create pottery and art of any form; and, in some small way, help to preserve and celebrate the culture of the Cherokee people.”
Bo Taylor, Museum of the Cherokee Indian executive director, said, “We want people to understand that we, as Cherokees, want to build a culture here. We don’t want our artists to always be living hand-to-mouth. We want them to be able to survive in their art and that means making a living.”
He said it is important for artists to have proper avenues to market their art. “We want the Museum to be that vehicle so they can have a place to share their art, express their art, and I think we have a good start.”
Taylor said other cultural exhibits will be coming soon for that space including a syllabary exhibit and one on Indian ball. “The Museum is not just something for the tourists. It is for our people. Our goal is to tell the stories and share our culture and to keep them alive.”
The following artists are featured in the exhibit:
* Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians – Davy Arch, Olive Arch, Darrin Bark, Charlotte Welch Bigmeat, Ethel Bigmeat, Edith Welch Bradley, Elzina Tramper Bradley, Myrna Climbingbear, Gwen Jackson Conseen, Amanda Crowe, Michael Crowe, Regina Crowe, Svnoyi Crowe, Ariane Cucumber, Annie Driver, Nellie Driver, Bernadine Hicks George, Sally Tramper George, John Grant, Edward Frances (Frank) Jackson, Elizabeth Bigmeat Jackson, Harold Long, Debbie Maney, Eloise Maney, John Henry Maney, Beloved Woman Louise Bigmeat Maney, Melissa Maney, Tara McCoy, Rosie Owle Marler, Joel Queen, Joely Queen, Dean Reed, Lori Reed, Jason Tseshani Reed, M. Rich, Marina Robbins, Amy Roberts, Natalie Rose, Paulette Smart, Helen Smith, Osceola Smith (Ossie), Amanda Sequoyah Swimmer, Donald Swimmer, Flora Swimmer, Mabel Bigmeat Swimmer, Melvina Swimmer, Merina Swimmer, Mary Welch Thompson, Sarah Thompson, Cora Arch Wahnetah, Patty Sue Wahnetah, Lottie Tramper Welch, Maude French Welch, Rebecca (Amanda) Wolfe Youngbird
* Cherokee Nation – Matthew Anderson, Verna Bates, Mel Cornshucker, Bill Glass Jr., Crystal Hanna, Troy Jackson, Victoria McKinney, Anna Belle Sixkiller Mitchell, Jane Osti, David Pruitt, Joann Rackliff-Richmond, Tama Roberts, Lisa Rutherford, Jesse Smith, Sequoyah School Pottery, Lillie Vann, Victoria Mitchell Vasquez, Karin Wakingstick
“I’m always making pottery with the old pottery in mind,” said Jane Osti, Cherokee Nation National Treasure who has been making pots for 43 years. “It might not look like the old pottery, but that’s the foundation that I draw from. I try to honor and preserve our old pottery. It gets pretty contemporary-looking sometimes, but most times it has something on it that relates to our culture and traditions and it’s built that way.”
Osti, who resides on the Cherokee Nation in Tahlequah, Okla., is a frequent winner and exhibitor at art shows all over the United States. She was taught by the late Anna Belle Sixkiller Mitchell whose work is also in the exhibit, and Osti taught fellow exhibitor Karin Walkingstick, a Cherokee Nation citizen also from Tahlequah.
“We’re not related, but it’s like it is third generation because Anna revived our pottery there (Oklahoma) and so she brought it back and taught Jane, and I took a class from Jane five-and-a-half years ago and got hooked immediately,” said Walkingstick. “I like to paint pottery. I think that’s what I do that is different. I don’t want to do exactly the same thing that someone else is doing so I just started doing painted pottery and I’ve gotten a good reception with that.”
She and Osti both have always viewed their pottery as art. “I just want to keep doing new stuff, and in the contemporary pottery that I do, it’s endless really,” Walkingstick noted. “If you keep thinking up new things, you can keep doing new things. You have to keep it fresh.”
Osti added, “You have to re-invent yourself every few years. Some people say ‘do the old traditional’, but those people didn’t stay static. Their pottery changed all the time in various periods.”