FAIRFAX, Okla. – While technology buffs prefer the newest digital cameras to the old instamatics, Osage artist Alex Stock prefers to capture her images on canvas with oil paint.

“People have said painting’s dead and I’m like: ‘I’m going to hold onto an old idea of portraiture, it’s a moment you’re capturing,’” the 23-year-old said while sitting in the former Thunderbird bar along Main Street. She says painting is different because “photos flatten things. When you paint (images) from life, it’s different because you notice more details.”

Stock’s family, who ran the Thunderbird for three years, converted it into an art studio which is now used by Stock and her mother Wendy Ponca, also an artist who specializes in fabric and textile works. Several pieces of the bar’s furniture remain in the 1920s-era building alongside art equipment, supplies and several paintings placed against the wall.

Stock is also trained in drawing/ sketching, silk screen printing and fiber arts thanks to her studies at the Kansas City Art Institute. She graduated from KCAI last December with a Bachelor’s degree.

Stock is the third generation in her family to attend KCAI, which is a prestigious and private art school. “It’s hard to get into, if you can get in there, your chances for a master’s program are a lot (greater) too.”

Wendy Ponca is also a KCAI graduate like her father, Carl Ponca. “It’s one of the most recognized art institutes in the world like those in Paris and Athens,” she said, adding she also chose KCAI because it’s “close to home.” Ponca’s textile work includes making Osage regalia including otter hides for men, ribbons for women and woven belts.

Stock uses the bar-turned-studio to work and she’s invited fellow artist friends to visit her in Osage Country and to use the studio for their own work.

“A studio is more than just a space,” Ponca said. “You need a place to spend time by yourself. If you’re cooped up in a building, it’s not the same. Just like church, it’s got to be inspirational – that’s why some people paint outside.”

A self-portrait of Alex Stock sits on a stand by the front window next to a rectangular mirror, which she used as a guide for painting herself on canvas. “I’m a quick painter, but some people will take years on one painting,” she said.

Several portraits of friends and family painted by Stock are also in the studio. Those moments provided an outlet for Stock and her painting models to bond while she worked. “I got into the habit of inviting friends over and they’d sit for three hours,” Stock said. “People have said they really enjoy it, there’s something about being immortalized in paint.”

‘Opportunity to express yourself’

Ponca, a former college art teacher, credits art outlets and schools with assisting people because “it’s a good opportunity to express yourself and it could help them – especially youth.” She is also a graduate of the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe, N.M. where she was an instructor from 1982 to 2000.

Stock initially attended Woodland High in Fairfax, but transferred to Santa Fe High School for her senior year to pursue a “bigger venue” with more art program opportunities and graduated in 2005.

At 21, Stock painted a scene of her family’s former New Mexico residence after she began having “weird dreams” which lasted over a month. “I dreamed I was shepherding children through the house.”

Stock began painting the dream sequence, which she learned was once “an old school house.” When the painting was finished, it depicted a two-story house with three groups of dark-haired children coming outside. Off to the side of the house are several animal tracks in the desert sand.

“After I finished painting, I stopped having the dreams,” said Stock who is considering moving back to Santa Fe. Early 20th century schools (government or church-funded) targeting Native American children hold a dark part in history because they were created as an attempt to assimilate Native students through mainstream education and the schools’ instructors shunned Native languages and culture while some school officials even abused the students.

The “house painting” is among several others inside the Thunderbird along with a “painting of dolls” in which Stock blends Russian and Native influences together.

Thirteen Russian Matroyoshka dolls are painted in different sizes and all are wearing Native clothing, regalia and have straight black hair. The Matroyoshka dolls are usually made in decreasing order and open in half so that one doll can be placed inside the larger one.

In another painting, Stock creates prints of two images which appear to be changing shapes while swimming or floating. The painting is a story about “two lovers who get separated. They become fish so they can meet together again,” Stock said.

Stock, Wendy and Carl Ponca are from the Grayhorse District. They are of the Ponca-Wash-Tage or Gentle Leader Clan and the Water People of the Hun-Kah Division. Wendy Ponca’s Indian name is Wah-Tsi-Wen (Star Woman) and Stock is Min-Ga-Shona (Star That Is The Sun).