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HomeCultureArts & CultureContemporary ceramics 'Belonging' show gathers Osage artists, mentors in Texas

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Contemporary ceramics ‘Belonging’ show gathers Osage artists, mentors in Texas

Hosted at Texas Tech University, works by Anita Fields and Cortney YellowHorse-Metzger will be on display from Feb. 2 through March 23. The opening keynote event for the Symposium on Friday, Feb. 23 will be a conversation with Fields and Karita Coffey.

Two Osage ceramicists are showing works in an exhibition on the theme of belonging at Texas Tech University, open Friday, Feb. 2 through March 23, 2024. Anita Fields, 2021 National Heritage Fellow, has created a new piece called “Building Fires” for the show, and will have three additional works displayed in the exhibition entitled, “Belonging: Contemporary Native Ceramics from the Southern Plains.” Up-and-coming Osage ceramicist Cortney YellowHorse-Metzger, of the Grayhorse District, also has two clay installations in the show, both newly created in 2023.

Belonging emerged as the theme for the show because curator Dr. Klinton Burgio-Ericson did not want the show to be about identity, which he finds his students at Texas Tech University perceive as a politicized, personal choice around self-representation. The curator hoped to show that quite the opposite is true for Natives, whose belonging comes from familial and community ties, which aren’t fully a matter of choice.

“For non-Native people, there’s this belief that being Native is primarily about the percentage of genetics people might have. People are able to make pretty spurious claims to Native identity [based on DNA tests]. … I chose the theme ‘belonging,’ because it shows a much greater range of part of community, family, relationships, to land and place and particular histories.”

Tears of the Sky People, 2023.
Glazed ceramic installation, dimensions variable.
Courtesy of the artist, Cortney YellowHorse-Metzger

YellowHorse-Metzger’s “Tho-day-they (To Live in Friendship)” and “Tears of the Sky People” both express ideas of “being in communion with family, relatives, Osage community, and those who have come before,” as her total body of work does, said the artist. She has completed her BFA and MFA and now teaches ceramics at the University of New Mexico-Gallup. “Tho-day-they (To Live in Friendship)” is made up of thumbprints pressed into what she described as gritty, earthy, high-iron clay which prompted her to work differently than she was trained.

“As I was working with that clay … I got this urge to put my finger directly into it … and I saw what looked like little tiny faces looking back at me. I just saw it. So, I started putting little faces on the little thumbprints, and as that work came along … I [had] this sense of peace that, as I am doing my best to be respectful and be in harmony, [my ancestors] are pleased with me and they’re right there with me.”

The artist frames Osage removals from Missouri, Arkansas, and Kansas into Oklahoma, and beyond, as diaspora, and her work has motivated her to reclaim land from which Osages have been removed. Fields and YellowHorse-Metzger have not yet met, but Cortney said she is honored to show work alongside the venerated ceramicist from the Hominy District. In addition to her anticipation of showing works alongside Fields’, YellowHorse-Metzger named Cannupa Hanska Luger and Raven Halfmoon as artists she is very proud to join in the group show.  

Movement of the Sun II, 2011. Anita Fields
Clays, slips, gold luster glaze, 21 x 31.5 x 1.5 inches.
On loan courtesy of Dr. & Mrs. Lamar Meadows, Richmond, TX.

Burgio-Ericson was one of her professors at the University of New Mexico, and he said that the public awareness of Native people is very different in Texas. Upon leaving New Mexico for west Texas, he was confronted with the enormous erasure of Native people and said that as a settler, his “first concern was to ground this exhibit in the specific Indigeneity of this place, respecting the enduring relationships that Native people have with ancestral lands.” As he writes in the show catalog, “I want to honor the history and caretakers of what is today Lubbock, situated in the homelands of the Comanche Nation. This region also has importance for the Apache Tribe of Oklahoma, the Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes, the Jicarilla Apache Nation, the Kiowa Tribe of Oklahoma, and the Mescalero Apache Tribe of the Mescalero Reservation.”

More broadly than Lubbock, the Caddo Nation, of which Halfmoon is a member, also has ancestral ties with Texas, although the Caddo artist, as well as Coffey, who is Comanche, did not directly consider Texas land connections. Fields, however, did think of land connection and notes that the use of earth itself in clay-making has been important and generative for her.

She was also inspired by Karita Coffey, who was a role model for her as Fields was first starting out. “I looked up to [her] when I was beginning to work in clay. She was established as a prominent clay artist, and she is from Oklahoma. When Klint approached me, kind of the bigger conversation at that time, when he was beginning, was centered around the work that Karita had begun.”

The show emerged out of conversations between Burgio-Ericson and Coffey, and such relationships as the influence of Coffey’s work on Fields’ are also important to the show, noted the curator. Fields and Coffey will hold a keynote conversation moderated by Burgio-Ericson on Friday, Feb. 23, as part of the 2024 Texas Ceramics Symposium which stretches through that weekend and is open to the public, with registration.

Do Your Best, 2020.
Porcelain with luster glaze, 3 panels each 12.25 x 12.25 x 1 inches.
On loan courtesy of the artist, Anita Fields.

Coffey said that she admires Fields’ work as well for the rich ways the Osage ceramicist has worked with metaphor, as well as her technical skill, her endurance throughout her career, and her many community contributions. “She’s a cultural practitioner,” said Coffey. “She lives that, participates, and all of that. I like that about her. She’s in community, and I like that.”

Fields’ community work and its influence on her career contrasts with that of Coffey, who shared that in returning to her community after 40 years away, she wasn’t able to reintegrate, despite her traditional upbringing. “I grew up in a transitional time, when we still lived in the country on our allotment, no electricity, no running water, my grandfather lived in the same house, so he was born in the 1800s, and at that time Comanche women still wore their Indian dresses … and they still wore their shawls, very subdued, and I am glad I grew up at that time. That shaped me, the way I grew up, but I have been out here in Santa Fe for so many years, I mean 40 years. When I moved back to Oklahoma, I felt I worked at getting in community, but it wasn’t the same. No one knew me at home. I could go to an opening at the Comanche Museum and I wouldn’t know anyone. It was difficult to fit in, in a way,” said Coffey.

“I didn’t feel I was trusted, I had been gone so long, it was like I was tainted. Worldly, you know,” she said. “If I had remained home, eventually, I think I would have been part of the community, they get used to you and they begin to trust you. I just think life is short, and I enjoy the art community here in Santa Fe, the IA[IA] community,” she said.

Osage artist Cortney YellowHorse-Metzger at her home in Albuquerque, N.M. YellowHorse-Metzger is from the Grayhorse District. Courtesy Photo

Fields’ “Building Fires” focuses on both community relationships and the relationship to non-human relative, fire. “It’s the idea of relationship to fire, relationship to the importance of that in terms of cooking, other things associated with it, that are personal,” she said. “At this point, I have nine press-molded logs, and I can arrange them into different shapes of fire,” she said. The longest ceramic log in “Building Fires” is almost two feet long.

Fields experience of working with clay spans a long period in her art-making process and she considers it a point of earth-connection amid contemporary modernized life. “There is this idea of a relationship to your material, but deeper than that: a relationship to the earth, even though I feel very disconnected—because of the way we live—from nature. And I have deep, deep respect for the environment and nature but I don’t … I feel a real disconnect to all of that, so I feel that clay has given me the privilege to be able to use her, it gives me a grounding and a connection to the earth,” she said.  

Tho-day-they (To Live in Friendship), 2023
Glazed stoneware and unfired slip installation, dimensions variable.
On loan courtesy of the artist, Cortney YellowHorse-Metzger.

Among such moments of disconnection, reconnection, and areas where belonging seems absent, the artists in “Belonging: Contemporary Native Ceramics from the Southern Plains,” find inspiration. “It is a really diverse show,” said the curator, in both approaches to the subject matter as well as tribes, who are included based on their affiliations as members of Plains tribes, as well as Natives arriving to the region contemporaneously, and those belonging to tribes forcibly removed to the plains region.

Cannupa Hanska Luger, for instance, who is Mandan, Hidatsa, Arikara and Lakota, is included in the show because he chose to live in New Mexico, which the curator noted as “the gateway between the plains and the pueblos.” Halfmoon, who is from Oklahoma, and whose Caddo ancestors did historically live in Texas, did not focus on either land or community connection in expressing ideas on belonging, but instead thought of the enduring past, present and future ancestors who are enduring through time. “Belonging is an important element of Native community that also comes with responsibility,” she said. “My sculptures explore the history, culture, and modern identity of Native women. … I strive to create art that acknowledges the presence of indigenous people in the past, the present, the future … always.”

Coffey said she feels most connected to the allotment land where she grew up in Oklahoma, rather than to Texas, broadly, but knows that Comanches have deep connections to Texas. “They were all over Texas, and they had marker trees throughout Texas. Comanches, I’m sure, like Osages and other tribes, had a very intimate relationship with the land, they knew where all the creeks were, and things like that,” she said. Her own life has most echoed the land relationships of her ancestors in her love of traveling. “I don’t mind driving, going back and forth to Oklahoma,” she said with a laugh.

Osage artist Anita Fields, who is a 2021 National Heritage Fellow. Courtesy Photo/Tom Fields

As Fields expressed, the less land-connected nature of modern life highlights clay as one way to work with the earth, with endless possibilities for generations through relationships. “[Clay is] very strong, but also very vulnerable. It has a lot of characteristics that are very human-like. It’s forgiving and it’s not forgiving, it has a memory. We have a memory, it can transform. There are so many things that are just similar to being human and that alone really speaks to the worldview that we hold as Native people.”  

The opening keynote event for the Symposium on Friday, Feb. 23 will be a conversation with Anita Fields and Karita Coffey. To participate, register at https://www.depts.ttu.edu/art/exhibits/folders-exhibits-projects-symposia/2024-02-Tx_Ceramics_Symposium/2024_ceramics_symposium.php

The show is funded by Still Water Foundation in Austin, Texas, and a grant from the City of Lubbock, and the Ryla T. & John F. Lott Endowment for Excellence in the Visual Arts administered through the School of Art, and through the J.T. & Margaret Talkington College of Visual & Performing Arts.

Works by Cortney YellowHorse-Metzger include:

Tears of the Sky People, 2023.
Glazed ceramic installation, dimensions variable.
Courtesy of the artist.

Tho-day-they (To Live in Friendship), 2023
Glazed stoneware and unfired slip installation, dimensions variable.
On loan courtesy of the artist.

Works by Anita Fields:

Movement of the Sun II, 2011.
Clays, slips, gold luster glaze, 21 x 31.5 x 1.5 inches.
On loan courtesy of Dr. & Mrs. Lamar Meadows, Richmond, TX.

It’s a Bucket With a Lid On It, 2016.
Ceramic, 10 x 7.5 x 7.5 inches.
On loan courtesy of the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History, Norman.

Do Your Best, 2020.
Porcelain with luster glaze, 3 panels each 12.25 x 12.25 x 1 inches.
On loan courtesy of the artist.

Building Fires, 2023.
Press molded clay, underglaze wash, 18 x 30 x 30 inches.
On loan courtesy of the artist.

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Chelsea T. Hicks
Chelsea T. Hickshttps://osagenews.org
Title: Staff Reporter
Email: chelsea.hicks@osagenation-nsn.gov
Languages spoken: English
Chelsea T. Hicks’ past reporting includes work for Indian Country Today, SF Weekly, the DCist, the Alexandria Gazette-Packet, Connection Newspapers, Aviation Today, Runway Girl Network, and elsewhere. She has also written for literary outlets such as the Paris Review, Poetry, and World Literature Today. She is Wahzhazhe, of Pawhuska District, belonging to the Tsizho Washtake, and is a descendant of Ogeese Captain, Cyprian Tayrien, Rosalie Captain Chouteau, Chief Pawhuska I, and her iko Betty Elsey Hicks. Her first book, A Calm & Normal Heart, won the 5 Under 35 Award from the National Book Foundation. She holds an MA from the University of California, Davis, and an MFA from the Institute of American Indian Arts.
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