Oral history interview with Jane Osti

OOHRP, Oklahoma State University
Toggle Index/Transcript View Switch.
Search This Transcript

Little Thunder: My name is Julie Pearson-Little Thunder. Today is Monday, May 2,[2011] and I'm interviewing Jane Osti as part of the Oklahoma Native Artists Project sponsored by the Oklahoma Oral History Research Program at Oklahoma State University. We're at Jane's studio and gallery in Tahlequah. Jane, I've watched your pottery develop and refine itself over a number of years, earning you a long list of awards as well as the designation of a Living Treasure by Cherokee Nation. Where you born and where did you grow up?

Osti: I was born here in Tahlequah at the old Hastings Indian Hospital and I grew up north of here about fourteen miles in Terrace Side, Rocky Ford area and went to Oaks Mission High School.

Little Thunder: What did your folks do for a living?

Osti: My mom died when I was five years old. My dad did mining. And the last part of his life, for thirty or forty years, he did ranching and cattle.


Little Thunder: Mining here in this area?

Osti: Northeast Oklahoma.

Little Thunder: Were your grandparents a factor in your early life?

Osti: They died when I was pretty young, actually. Especially on my Indian side, I think. I didn't really get to know them. They died when I was really young. My other grandmother, she only lived till I was twenty and I was around her quite a bit.

Little Thunder: This was your dad's mom?

Osti: Yes.

Little Thunder: Were you around the Cherokee language much growing up?

Osti: We had Indian kids at school. We heard all the funny words, the bad words. (Laughter) But I really wasn't around a lot of speakers. There were a few people I knew that spoke, but when we'd come to Tahlequah on Saturdays, we'd always 2:00hear the people around the Square. Around the old Cherokee court house, you'd hear people speaking Cherokee, and my grandma and grandpa both spoke. They spoke to their friends in Cherokee, the Indian side. My sister tells me these stories. I don't remember them because she used to come town with them every Saturday and they would meet their friends to speak Cherokee.

Little Thunder: What are your earliest memories of doing art?

Osti: There wasn't any art going on in my life as a child. I think once when I was in the fourth or fifth grade, I was at a school where they had an art class. Other than that, there wasn't any until I lived on my own.

Little Thunder: The one art class that you had in fourth grade, did you paint 3:00for that or draw pictures?

Osti: It was like poster paint. I remember it was Thanksgiving and we got to do a pumpkin or something. (Laughter) That's my memory of art. The only art that I was around as a child was the little cards they gave you in Sunday school when you're real little. I thought they were beautiful. Beautiful colors. That and calendars.

Little Thunder: Where you around any Indian art?

Osti: No. My mom was the Indian person in my parents. She died when I was five and we lived with my dad's folks. So, the only Indian people I was around was a couple of times a year when somebody would visit us from my mom's family and the kids at school that were Indian.

Little Thunder: You didn't do any modeling with mud or clay that you can remember? Any three-dimensional work?


Osti: I made some mud pies but that is about it. (Laughter)

Little Thunder: Secondary school, was that in Tahlequah? Junior High?

Osti: No. It was all, that little country school and in Oaks. We didn't even call it secondary then because we went through the eighth grade at the country school and then we went to the mission school.

Little Thunder: At the mission school, is where you got your high school education and were exposed to some art classes?

Osti: No, they had no art classes there either.

Little Thunder: When you went on to Northeastern State University was that immediately after high school? Did you have some work experience in-between?

Osti: I worked and I think I made my art of out of flower gardens and sewing and 5:00all kinds of things for years, and house-fixing.

Little Thunder: Because you got married and had a family.

Osti: Yeah. When I was thirty-three, I started to community college in San Francisco. I went to school there for about five or six years, community college. Just taking courses I wanted to take. I would take five or six art courses per semester. As many as I could do. (Laughter) I moved to Southern California when I was twenty-one and I lived there till I was forty.

When I was married there, I went to community college there. Then I moved back here in '85. I moved there in '67 and moved back here in '85. When I went to Northeastern, I think I was just maybe fifteen hours short of my Bachelor's. I 6:00wasn't even trying to get a degree. I'd taken everything for fun. So, I finished that, then I did my Master's.

Little Thunder: In San Francisco at the community college, what media were you taking classes in?

Osti: Everything from line drawing to portrait drawing, painting. Everything they offered. Watercolor. I took everything they offered except for the clay classes.

Little Thunder: Were you thinking of yourself as an artist?

Osti: I just knew I wanted to do it forever. I didn't think about having to make a living at that time. I just knew the first time I smelled it, saw it, that's what I wanted to do. (Laughter)

Little Thunder: You are talking about paint at this point? The smells of the painting class and stuff?


Osti: Yeah. But I loved drawing, any of it. I loved all of it. I can't even think of the names of the classes now, it's been so long ago. (Laughter) I liked every one of them.

Little Thunder: Did you get any encouragement from teachers there?

Osti: Super encouragement, yeah. I even loved the art history classes there. We had such a wonderful teacher.

Little Thunder: When you came to Northeastern State University, you were taking an Indian studies class and you decided you were going to do a paper on Anna Mitchell. Had you met Anna before?

Osti: No. That is when I was in my first pottery class and taking a Cherokee history class. And when I got into the pottery, of course, I heard of Anna. I 8:00heard of her pottery through the Indian studies class because people knew about her in pottery. I was also taking an archeology class at the same time where we were talking about pottery. It just all came together and when I got that assignment, I called and asked if I could interview her and that's how we got to know each other.

Little Thunder: Your first experience with pottery, was it immediately a strong connection?

Osti: Just like the other. (Laughter) I had postponed taking pottery and sculpture because I wasn't interested in it. I wasn't interested in the three-dimensional. And once I got in that class, I was as addicted to it as I was to paint. (Laughter) The teacher had a lot of to do with it. He was a 9:00wonderful teacher, Jerry Choate at NSU. He's retired now. He would smell the clay and talk about how wonderful it smelled and how wonderful it felt. And boy, I was right behind him thinking, he's right. (Laughter)

Little Thunder: When you called Anna and asked if you could interview her, do you remember that interview?

Osti: Very much. I was scared to death. (Laughs) She was very kind. She was very stern and professional and now she's not. (Laughter) She didn't know what I wanted from her, and I didn't know what I wanted from her either. She's been my teacher, my mentor and my friend over twenty years now, closer to twenty-five. 10:00It took her twenty-two years to say I love you. She said it a couple of years ago. (Laughter) But we became friends. We're good friends.

Little Thunder: While you were talking with her did she have pots around? She was showing you some of her work?

Osti: I was in love with everything she had.

Little Thunder: Which was very innovative at the time.

Osti: We wouldn't have pottery in Oklahoma--most likely, we wouldn't have Cherokee potters, if Anna hadn't have started doing it in the '60s. There's a few people, I suppose, that have tried pottery but nobody has reached the level that she did in creating Cherokee pottery. She didn't just do Cherokee pottery. She did anything that was Southeast, because at the time when she was doing research, we didn't have Internet. Anything that was Southeastern she would do it. It didn't have to be specifically Cherokee. And I have pretty much done 11:00that, too, for twenty years. But lately, the last five years or so, since I've met some Cherokee artists from the East and gotten acquainted with the things on the Internet, we can find some specifically Cherokee pots now.

Little Thunder: When did you first ask her if you could study with her?

Osti: I'd seen her giving a demonstration somewhere and I watched her do that pottery demonstration. I moved to the Vinita area for one year and I worked with her all the time I was there, firing and making pottery and digging clay with 12:00her. I was lucky enough to be there for one whole year to work with her.

Little Thunder: You had these two lines of training, I guess.

Osti: The first training I had with Jerry Choate was really, really important. He really instilled a love of the clay, a love of the form. It was a real education--I wouldn't have been ready for Anna if I hadn't had that earlier time with him. He was a wonderful artist. He made beautiful forms. The way he touched the clay and sort of revered the clay was something I'll always remember about him. I followed him around everywhere for about three or four years. (Laughter) I wanted to know anything he had to teach. He was very good, a really good teacher.


Little Thunder: Were you trying any clay sculpture with Indian motifs at NSU?

Osti: Yes. I also took his sculpture class. The first sculpture I did was a nude torso. When I got to the hand, he modeled for the hand but it was a female sculpture. (Laughter) We did a few other things. We did some busts and then I did a sculpture that was a tribute to Anna. It's not a portrait likeness, but it's a tribute to her. That is at the Center for Tribal Studies. They ended up casting it in bronze. The Cherokee Nation, Wilma Mankiller and Don Betts, were pretty much the ones that settled the deal, although Dennis Snell was real responsible. A lot of other people helped get it off the ground.


Little Thunder: Jerry Choate wasn't working with native clays, was he? But Anna was. Do you remember the first time you went to dig clay with her?

Osti: Yes. (Laughs) In fact, Phyllis Fife, Dennis Snell and I went to her house and did a video that day. I didn't dig any clay that day. I watched her and Bob dig it, her husband. We did a video that's in the library at NSU. It's very good. They were just wonderful in showing us and telling us. She went all the way through, from digging to demonstrating how to make a pot, to firing that day 15:00when we got done videoing. They were a wonderful little couple, real gracious and just shared everything with us.

Little Thunder: When did you first begin then making pots on your own and showing professionally?

Osti: I started taking classes with Jerry Choate in '87, I believe. Met Anna that year, did the sculpture of her by '89, and I think '90 was my first year at Red Earth. That was my first show outside of Tahlequah.

Little Thunder: Did you enter a competition piece?

Osti: Yes. I took the big sculpture of Anna and I got an honorable mention. Kelly Haney came by my booth. He really liked it. (Laughter)

Little Thunder: How did that make you feel?

Osti: Really good. It made me want to enter more shows and start doing Red Earth 16:00and Aspen, all of those. The early Aspen shows, remember those?

Then I started going to the Wichita, Heard [Museum] show and Lawrence, [Kansas]. I think by '94, I had gotten in the Heard and '95 in Santa Fe. I started showing in 1990.

Little Thunder: Santa Fe's been a pretty important market for you?

Osti: It has. It's been a real good market for me until the last few years. I think it's the economy, or there's just a million potters there, too. (Laughter)

Little Thunder: In terms of the competition aspect, has that been tricky?

Osti: I won an award every year I was there, except one. I didn't win one in 2000. But I've won one every other year I've been there. Sometimes Second, Third, sometimes First. I've never won one of their big giant awards but won 17:00First a few times. They've started a Woodland division and John Nez has told me it was because of one of my fish pots I entered. He came by my booth a couple of years ago and said, "We are going to start having a Woodland category." I probably shouldn't be saying that [but] he told me it was because of that pot.

Little Thunder: What kind of reception did you get for your pots in the early days when Cherokee pottery wasn't that well- known here in Oklahoma?

Osti: In Oklahoma you still don't get much of a reaction to pottery. (Laughs) People think it's not art unless they can hang it on the wall and it's a 18:00painting. There aren't a lot of pottery collectors in Oklahoma, I don't believe. David Boren has one of my pots. I think it might be getting a little better known. Anna said when she first started going to Santa Fe that people would tell her, you shouldn't be making that. Cherokees didn't make pottery.

Little Thunder: When in fact she was reviving an old tradition. So there was Anna obviously, and then Bill Glass, Mike Daniels and yourself, but it's always been a small group. Has that made it easier or harder to market your work?

Osti: Well, say Santa Fe, for instance. The few people that are educated and know about Woodland pottery and know that it's the old pottery and know about 19:00Mound pottery, they like collecting it. Some people just like it because of what it looks like. Then, the ones that are there strictly for Southwest pottery, they won't even look at any other pottery. They just shoot right on by. Then there are people that know what it is and they are very interested. They say 80 or 90 percent of people that come to Market are looking for pottery. Maybe 1 percent of them are looking for Woodland pottery. (Laughter)

Little Thunder: So it's a pretty hard market.

Osti: Yeah, but it's the best market we have. When I go to a show in the Midwest here there is not that much interest in pottery. Eiteljorg, [Indiana] has been 20:00pretty good, but they draw clientele from the Chicago and Milwaukee region and all around.

Little Thunder: What were some early galleries in Oklahoma that you dealt with?

Osti: Linda Greever at the Art Market, of course. She was one of my first supporters. She was very good to me. The Cherokee gift shops have always bought from me. Several years ago, Doris Littrell. She was kind and supported me. I haven't done much gallery work in Oklahoma. Lovett's Gallery--right now I have 21:00some work at their gallery. But doing the shows constantly the way I was for a few years like eight, ten or twelve shows a year, there wasn't much left over for galleries. I have done [a show at] the Turquoise Tortoise. I can't even remember the galleries that I've been in. Quite a few, at one time.

Little Thunder: And you can't exactly finish things on the road like a painter and sculptor can.

Osti: No. What you have when you leave, that's it.

Little Thunder: You were coming in at the very beginning of the '90s. What are 22:00your other impressions of that art scene?

Osti: At the Indian art shows, I think people are looking for jewelry to adorn the body and then [to] adorn the walls or tables. The best markets for pottery for me have been in the Southwest. The Heard or Pueblo Grande. A couple of the other shows. Colorado was pretty good at one time. I didn't do [Colorado] Indian Market much but Grand Junction and Aspen--some of those shows were pretty good. I never really had great sales at Red Earth. I know Pahponee does with her 23:00pottery. Maybe my pottery just didn't strike a chord with them.

Little Thunder: You have been designated a master artist by the Five Tribes Museum, haven't you?

Osti: No.

Little Thunder: That's an oversight. They need to get around to that. (Laughter) But you were honored as a Living Treasure by the Cherokee Nation in 2005. What has that designation meant to you?

Osti: Well, I like the group of people I am connected with, in connection with being a Treasure. When I first got it, I was one of the younger ones. Now there's some that are younger than me. The last few years they have awarded to 24:00four or five people that are quite a bit younger, where at one time it was mostly elders. The group of elders I'm connected with, and the young ones too, I've really enjoyed the camaraderie and the get-togethers we have and learning from them, visiting with them. So, it's made that possible. I may have not have gotten to know them if we weren't being Treasures together. (Laughter)

Little Thunder: You started your gallery in 2005 and you've done a lot to support their work through your gallery.

Osti: They've always been welcome to show their work here and I don't take a commission from them. What they sell is theirs. I've enjoyed them very much. They've told me some great stories and we have had some good laughs.

Little Thunder: Have they inspired any pieces?

Osti: In pottery? No. I have all their handprints on a plate, though, or several 25:00of them. (Laughter) No, they're just real different artists. One of them makes buffalo grass dolls; one does weaving, and basket makers. I love and admire their work, but it really is a million miles away from pottery.

Little Thunder: You've had a couple of casino commissions as I understand it. Is that correct?

Osti: They've bought quite a lot, some to exhibit and some for different rooms. I don't know where all they put it, but they've helped me out a lot. Bought quite a bit the last three or four years.

Little Thunder: I was wondering if these have been more like sculptural 26:00installations or actually pots?Osti: They've actually bought things I already have instead of com-missioning me to make things. Except the shield-type things. They did order a bunch of those to put in different rooms. They bought a couple of paintings. I think they bought a few sculptures but it was things that I had.

Little Thunder: Do you have any kids or grandkids or extended family who are interested in learning pottery?

Osti: They're all a little bit interested and no one is really ready to go for it. (Laugh) I have a lot of students that have continued to make pottery. I think at one time at the art show at the Heritage Center there was like eight 27:00people that had entered pieces that had been through the classes.

Little Thunder: Oh, that's a real tribute.

Osti: Yeah. Cherokee Nation has really helped me in the respect of being able to teach a lot of people because the last few years I've worked with public schools.

Little Thunder: As an artist in the schools?

Osti: No, they come to me. I teach the teachers and then they take it back to the school. Teachers, community members, JOM [Johnson O'Malley] members that are interested in learning. Then they teach it in the community.

Little Thunder: That's wonderful. So that's a Cherokee Nation program.

Osti: Yeah. I've heard that three or four schools, at least, that their JOM or their program like that, had gotten pottery grants this year, so they could set up pottery rooms in their schools.

It feels good. Anna taught her daughter [Victoria], myself and Crystal [Hanna]. 28:00The three of us continue to do pottery. She taught dozens more--I just don't know who they are, but she always taught. The three of us have continued to make pottery. Victoria and Crystal are going to be teaching some classes here in our new studio, too. Anyway, I was thinking about making it a family tree with Anna, me, Crystal and Victoria. Then, the ones we have taught but not everybody we have taught, because obviously that would be a pretty big tree. But people that have continued to do it. We told Anna about it the other day. Make a pottery tree. (Laughter)

Little Thunder: So your mission for the gallery and studio has not just been to promote your own work.

Osti: It wouldn't be all that fun if it was just myself.

Little Thunder: It's really a teaching site.

Osti: Yes. I've taught in here for all these years. Now the other building will 29:00enable me to get the clay dust out of the gallery part. The new place absolutely will be--I think of it as a teeny Pottery Institute. A real teeny one. Also, a good place to go work. We will have ongoing continual classes there. I have Crystal and Victoria and Scott Roberts and Troy Jackson, several award-winning potters [and] sculptors lined up to help teach those classes.

Little Thunder: How has your teaching influenced your art?

Osti: I always learn things from the students. Even the little kids. I 30:00occasionally do schools still. I will almost start to correct the little kids and I'll see what they're doing, and then I'll think, "Oh, I like that. I wish I'd thought of that." Anyway, there's just about always a student that will make that happen. In every class. I did some teaching at Northeastern a few years ago as an adjunct in the evening. There was never a class I taught that I didn't learn something from some student that I still use right now. I like that, when that happens.

Little Thunder: Do you use mainly native clay from Oklahoma?

Osti: I still dig some clay. Very little, though, to be honest. I probably make three or four pots a year with the native clay. I still teach how to--

we go dig it and I teach them how to process it and use it. It's so labor- 31:00intensive and I work so many classes, and doing my own work. It takes a lot of time and a lot of labor to produce it, but it's worth it when you do. (Laughs)

Little Thunder: Even when you're buying clay, the process of getting it ready is physically demanding.

Osti: Well, the clay you buy is ready to go. And as far as I can tell, clay you buy and clay you dig, the big difference is processing. You process it or somebody else processes it. Clay is still clay. It's still out of the earth. I don't know what is added to it other than things that come out of the earth.

Little Thunder: Are you mainly working with the coil?


Osti: Yes. Coil method. Coil and slab. Flattened clay or rolled clay.

Little Thunder: When I first saw your work, it was medium size and it's been [evolving] to these larger formats. What are the challenges of working in large formats?

Osti: Having it hold together. (Laughter) Physical, lately. Just being able to handle it because you handle it a lot during the making. I still find it most rewarding to work large. I force myself to make little pots and medium-sized pots.

Little Thunder: But that is not your real interest.


Osti: Not really. I would probably, if there was a market for them, make large pots all the time.

Little Thunder: What about what you fire with?

Osti: Most times, I use an electric kiln and I will sawdust or wood fire [the clay] to achieve the coloring, the darkening on several of them that you can see here. But when I do the traditional clay, the hand-dug clay and do traditional firing, I use wood to fire it. On most of the others that are double-fired, they have been sawdust fired or flash-fired with kindling.

Little Thunder: Did you ever have anything break during the firing that you 34:00actually were able to use in a different way? (Laughs)

Osti: Not really. (Laughter) I've put some of them in the yard for garden arts.

Little Thunder: Have you ever been interested in pots that are functional?

Osti: The first several years when I was wheel throwing, that's what I made, the wheel-thrown pots. We made pitchers; we made a lot of vases. We learned to make coffee cups and pitchers and all that sort of thing.

I didn't make a lot of those. (Laughter) It was fun learning to make handles, though. (Laughs) And you can still put them on pots.


Little Thunder: Your work goes in so many different veins. One would be that you have got a pot and then you [do] some incised designs on it or something very texture-y.

Osti: I've been studying how Cherokees made pottery and what it's used for, for the last several years. This pot, for instance, is paddle stamping from a wooden paddle. That was the last type of pottery made in North Carolina in the East before Removal. It's 2,900 years old, the paddle stamping technique, so 36:00Cherokees were using it for a long, long time. I have five pots over there that represent 3,000 years of Cherokee pottery. The first ones are kind of molded or modeled and probably stamped with reed or textiles, and then it comes on up through the paddle stamping. I like knowing why things were done to pottery. This stamping helped conduct the heat better for the cooking pots. It made it easier to hold on [to], where it wouldn't slip through your hands. Then, of course, we always like things to be beautiful, so it always had, I think, a beautiful design.


Little Thunder: Did you make the replicas?

Osti: No, I didn't make those. A friend of mine--well, I have only known her for a few years, Tammy Bean, she does museum replicas for all the museums in the Southeast. I bought those from her. When they want something reproduced, not just reproduced but replicas, she does them.

Little Thunder: Another vein of your work is you will have this motif like the oak leaves or the butterflies, then you will replicate it around the opening of the mouth of the pot a bit. And you'll have some negative space as well as the incised designs.

Osti: I think that comes way back from drawing and design classes. This clay is 38:00now my canvas and things that I used to do in design classes, I've transferred to doing on clay. I just started working with more things from nature in the last two or three years. Although the old designs are all about nature--they're all representing wind or water, something from nature. The effigy pots reflect everything that was in daily life years and years ago. This is a canoe pot, a fish pot, squash pots, from food to food to transportation in nature. So, nature is in all of them, really.

Little Thunder: You've got another vein which is sometimes just a burnished pot, 39:00but it has all of these beautiful bumps, it's all about the shape of it. It doesn't have ornamentation, but the way it catches light is so interesting.

Osti: Are you talking about like the one here on the end? I really, really like just shape and form without all the design and decoration. I really, really like 40:00it but it's really, really hard for me not to decorate every square inch. (Laughter)

Little Thunder: In terms of salability, do people appreciate those as much?

Osti: No. They like the decorated. They think you did more work on them. And actually, it is harder for me to do a plain one. (Laughs) When I took art history, I remember this term, "vacui horror." And when I get going on a pot, I think I have "vacui horror," fear of vacant spaces. (Laughter) Sometimes I just don't want it to end. If I can see I only have a few more inches to go--"No!" I want to keep going forever. (Laughter)

Little Thunder: Do you have a favorite part of the process? Is it actually the decorating?


Osti: I actually like building, seeing them take shape. The decorating I like just as well, I guess. (Laughter) But I really love the pottery when it's still wet and has just been formed or just been born. That's the stage I love it the most. It seems to lose something after it dries and hardens. In that stage, I think, is when I love it the most.

Little Thunder: (Laughs)What is your creative process, starting with when you get your ideas, how you get them?

Osti: Well, the old pottery is pretty much the foundation of everything I do, but if I start to make a pot and I say, for instance, "I'm going to make a 42:00squash pot," it may not turn out to be a squash pot. It may be another pot entirely. I just let it lead me a bit and sometimes I force it to be what I want it to be. (Laughter) But it's really pretty nice when you just let the clay kind of lead you where you go. And sometimes, it's not. Sometimes I think I need to get a little more orderly about what I do. (Laughs) "Okay, I'm going to make this, and make it."

Little Thunder: Do you do any sketching before you do a pot?

Osti: Sometimes. Of course, sometimes I don't.

Little Thunder: But it still might end up being something else?

Osti: It has hardly ever stayed what I sketched. (Laughs) But I have looked at some of the old pots and said, "Okay, I'm going to make a canoe pot, for instance, or a fire pot." I have one over there. I call it a fire pot, it's used 43:00to carry embers. You have to stick to your guns if you make a fire pot or a canoe pot. (Laughs) I pretty much look at the old ones and stick to it, but usually they get some variation on the theme. I'm not really interested in doing replicas or reproductions although some people might think I am because they see something and recognize it as looking like one of the old ones. My friend, Tammy, takes a tape measure with her and lays a penny beside it and it's going to be as close as she can get it. I am not after that. I do like to experience making some of the old ones that were made before me. That's a way of just paying tribute, I think, to the old peoples.

Little Thunder: So what's your creative routine, especially when you're teaching 44:00and making work? [Does] it just depend from day to day or do you try to get a number of certain hours in the studio?

Osti: I might be working at three in the morning or four in the morning. It's always on the other side of sleep. I don't work late into the night as a rule. I wake up early. (Laughs) I like the early morning hours for working and I'm quiet in the morning. Things come to me that I might want to do, and there's not any noise around or nobody awake, usually. That's my time to--that's when, I guess, 45:00the Muse comes. (Laughter) The Muse, or the moose. (Laughter)

Little Thunder: Looking backing on your career so far, what do you think was one of the important forks in your career?

Osti: Gosh, I can't think of anything major. From going to school to going to shows, I pretty much continued going to school and then doing the shows and 46:00working for years and years, and then teaching. It's been the phases. Right now is a big teaching phase, but in my work, there hasn't been anything real big, I don't believe, that's taken me in different directions. Except every few years I feel like I have to kind of reinvent myself because I would get bored making the same thing for twenty years. (Laughter) Maybe if you mean that kind of thing. Turning places. I think meeting with the Cherokee North Carolina artists. The group back there was a big turning point for Oklahoma pottery.


Little Thunder: When did that happen?

Osti: 2005. That's when I must have moved here, in 2004. They came here and taught us in 2005, the paddle-stomping technique. Tammy Bean, the one that did the replicas, she came with them. And she's the one that had taught them. They had lost it for over a hundred years. She taught them in 2000, I think, and they came and taught us in 2005. That was quite a turning point. It allowed us to find out more about what Cherokee pottery really was instead of just Southeastern pottery.

Little Thunder: Who was at the workshop with you?

Osti: Bill came and Anna came to visit. When Anna saw what they were teaching us, she said, "I wish I would have known this thirty years ago." Bill came and he observed, but he did his own thing. (Laughter) I think most of the people 48:00that participated, there were about twelve, most of them were students that I was having in class, except for Bill, and we invited him to come. Just anyone that was working in clay that I knew of, we invited them to participate. That was a pretty big turning point for us. I kind of got lost in it for a while, trying to do what they did. It took three or four years before I came back to doing what I do, and incorporating what I learned from them, instead of trying to be them.

Little Thunder: Sounds like the community of artists that you show with has been really important to you.

Osti: They've been like extended family. You go to a show and there is always someone to help you out, whether it be loading or unloading. I remember one time I was just smothering and Tiller Wesley brings me a bottle of water. We've just 49:00all helped each other out on the road at some time or another. You may have a booth neighbor in Colorado and then you may see them all the way across the country. You're friends and like family the next time you are together. It's been a really wonderful opportunity to meet people from other tribes and get to know them a little bit. I've had everyone from people in Montana that I'd never even heard of their tribe before that I became friends with. Anyway, that has been really neat and our immediate family of friends, there's been times when I've had people cover my room or help me with gas in the beginning. So, that family of friends has been real important.


Little Thunder: What about the business part of art? What were some of your best learning experiences or challenges?

Osti: I don't think I'm much of a business person, and if I would have had a business major, I might have done a lot better. (Laughter) Or a secretary or something. All of the business part's a challenge. People are lucky when they have partners with them that take care of that side of it.

Little Thunder: How about pricing your work?

Osti: That has been tricky, too, over the years to know. Before the economy kind of went crashing, I pretty much had a handle on the price it should be because 51:00it was selling pretty much. But I don't know what to put on it right now.

Little Thunder: And the bigger pieces take so much effort and time, basically your whole lifetime to do. When people say how long did it take you to do this, [what do you say]?

Osti: That's everybody's favorite question. (Laughter)

Little Thunder: What's been one of the low points in your career?

Osti: I suppose in the eight years after I started, just not being able to make a living doing what I really love to do. I felt like quitting a couple of times. My good friend Robert Connelly, I was having a discussion with him once, and he 52:00proceeded to explain success to me. He said, "Success is not financial, not always just financial." He just helped me look at it a little different. If I can tough it out and this is what I want to do, that would be success. There have been tough financial times with it. I don't think I've ever had a tough time about having a passion for the work and wanting to do the work. So, it's never really gone down at all. I would work every day if I could. If life didn't interfere. (Laughs) I really would, but every once in a while you have family and life that happens.

Little Thunder: How about one of the high points in your career? An award or not 53:00necessarily, maybe just an experience with an artist or a collector?

Osti: There's been so many of those, I have a hard time thinking of one. There've been many wonderful collectors and awards that have been really good.

Little Thunder: What do you think has been one of the more important awards you have received?

Osti: Gosh, I don't know about the awards. I think David Boren was one of the people I enjoyed most buying a pot because he invited me to his house to bring it to him, and took me on a tour. He showed me his whole art collection and then 54:00he sent me over to the museum with Mary Jo Watson to see the Spiro collection. Anyway, he was one of the most enjoyable sales I ever made, delivering it and visiting with him. I have two or three collectors that have been wonderful to me, well, four or five, really, friends and collectors. I won't mention their names, [but] they've all been high points. There's one in Dallas, a couple in Arkansas and Mel Perlman that has done so much for the Eitlejorg Museum. He was the first person that bought several thousand dollars worth from me. Then, my 55:00one collector in Arkansas has just been so good to me. He probably has twenty, thirty pieces. The one in Dallas does, too.

[But] the collectors come and go. They fade away. They get to twenty or thirty pots, then you don't have the same collector anymore. They pretty much bought the same type of things through the years. I've made some odd different things that have sold. They pretty much like the traditional pottery, those major collectors.


Little Thunder: In terms of the involvement of the tribes with tribal artists, have you seen some positive changes? Is there more that needs to be done?

Osti: I think the last several years the tribe has allocated 1 percent of casino sales to buying art with. And that has helped a lot of artists. I hope it's spread out to a lot of them. But I know it's helped out a whole lot of artists. Maybe they could do more, for instance with the elders, I think they could buy more of their art to help sustain them through some pretty rough fixed incomes and some hard times, and maybe they will. Maybe they just need to be made aware 57:00of them. I try my best to make them aware of it. (Laughter)

Little Thunder: What is the next show you have planned for your gallery?

Osti: We'll be having our grand opening for our new studio classroom this month, the thirteenth. Then probably not anything until [Cherokee] Homecoming on Labor Day for the studio. I'll be going to Santa Fe, hopefully, in August, but as soon as I get back from that, we always have a Homecoming show during the Cherokee holiday.

Little Thunder: Is that a pretty good time for you?

Osti: It's a busy time. As far as sales, it can go either way. But's a real busy time for people who are Cherokee to come back and visit Oklahoma and visit their friends and relatives. And we have a lot of art shows, three shows going on that 58:00weekend. One at the museum, one at the armory and one here, and maybe at other places, too. (Laughter) There's three that I'm involved with.

Little Thunder: Just thinking about getting ready for Santa Fe, which as I understand is the main big show you do, how many pieces typically do you try to take?

Osti: The pots, probably ten [to] fifteen. I used to do a lot of the smaller wall hangings. I used to take as many as thirty or forty wall hangings in addition to ten to fifteen pots. I think only one time, I came close to selling all of the pots. I usually bring quite a few of them back with me. (Laughter) But that's okay. I have three shows as soon as I get back.


Little Thunder: It's sometimes harder for artist to keep that much work, but you have been able to keep a few things?

Osti: Not much, just broken things.

Little Thunder: What do you call your wall again?

Osti: Intensive Care Unit. (Laughs) They all have a crack or a break. Broken shoulders, broken lips. (Laughs)

Little Thunder: Is there anything that we've forgotten to talk about, anything you would like to add?

Osti: I can't think of anything, Julie, except you're a good interviewer and you've made me very comfortable. Thank you. (Laughs)

Little Thunder: Well, we're going to go ahead and take a look at some of your work now. You want to tell us a little bit about this pot?

Osti: This is called a canoe pot. It's a middle-Mississippian pottery that was made around 1300, probably. I don't have my information in front of me. It's an 60:00effigy form that represents a canoe.

Little Thunder: So an effigy pot is?

Osti: A representation. We had a lot of them that represented food and animals and, in this case, a canoe. I first made this pot about eight years ago--the only other time I made it, I met Lloyd Kiva New [Director of the Institute of American Indian Arts].

Yes, it was just a few months, I think, before he passed. Anyway, I liked him a whole lot and I gave him the first canoe pot I ever made. That was a nice experience. He told me a lot about the Mounds that I didn't know.

Little Thunder: And this would be one that has gone through two firings?

Osti: Yes, it was kiln-fired and then sawdust-fired. The little nodes going 61:00around there is real representative of that period. I don't know what they meant, but a lot of the pots had nodes. I think it probably helped hang on to them or [was] decorative. Probably a little bit of each.

These originally were very small. This pot is called a burr pot. I've also seen it in museums where it's called a fire pot. It was used to carry embers for the fire. That's why it has handles. I imagine the little burs and nodes on it kept it from slipping and probably helped conduct the heat to keep the heat going. Some of them had the little nodes all over them. I like the design shape of it, 62:00although it was a functional pot. I think it had a very important mission to carry embers to keep the fire alive.

Little Thunder: In terms of the color, when this was fired, double-fired, what did you use?

Osti: I do a lot of sawdust firings, so I would say it probably is sawdust. But this was a white clay, so it doesn't go the dark color, or it could go black, just depending on how much fuel you use and how well you cover it. It was probably exposed to a lot of air to go the grey color.

Little Thunder: Do you want to tell us about these two pots?

Osti: The orb with the butterflies, that's more of a sculptural piece than it is 63:00a pot. It doesn't have an opening, but the butterflies, of course, from nature and the designs surrounding them, the foundation of it is from the old pottery. It's just a way to be creative and not make the usual pot. To do something a little something different with it.

Little Thunder: You can really see the dimensionality of it. There's an outer layer and these inner layers. [So] you weren't adding anything to the coils after you were done, you were just taking away?

Osti: After it was smoothed and finished up smooth, then I started carving into it, drawing and carving into it.

Little Thunder: What do you use for your carving?

Osti: A chopstick I use a lot for drawing. I just use something to pull the clay 64:00out. Just a tool, either wood or metal. Usually, wooden tools I like. A lot of it's pushed away, rather than cut away.

Little Thunder: And the pot on the left?

Osti: Out in the Southwest, they call them melon pots, but I call them squash pots because most of our old images look [more] like squash and pumpkins to me, than it did the melons. Once again it's an effigy, a representation of the plant, and plants were important. A plant that was a very important food source, one of the Three Sisters, the beans, squash--

Little Thunder: Do you want to explain the significance of the three sisters?

Osti: Okay. (Laughs) Well corn, beans, squash. The corn provided the stalk for the beans to wrap around. The leaves from the squash provided the shade to do 65:00the weeding, and the beans also replenished the soil with nitrogen, and then we had something good to eat with it. We don't ever have agriculture without pottery, they go hand in hand. (Laughs) Wherever people make pottery, they have agriculture, and it's usually discovered simultaneously whether it's along the Nile, Rio Grande or the Mississippi.

[Showing a different pot] That one's a large cooking pot with a Cherokee stamp on the bottom. Mooney took pictures of people using that particular stamp in the early 1900s. The top, with the banded top and the notched rim, it's typical Overhill Cherokee pottery. I guess 'over the hill' meant over the mountain into Tennessee.


Little Thunder: Is this the paddle motif that you were talking about?

Osti: Yes. The paddle design on that one is a version of the friendship pattern, which was taken from basket work and added to pottery since we're basket makers, usually, before potters because we're hunters and gatherers before we're agricultural. This is quite a large pot but some of our pots hold five to ten gallons. I guess they were used for very big feast occasions. That one may be a five or four gallon [pot].

Little Thunder: So that must have been an amazing technique that they had for firing something that big.

Osti: I have seen some of them in museums. They're wonderful. Some of them are this tall. [Gestures] I've tried to make a few of them that tall.

Little Thunder: Jane, I want to thank you for your time today. It has been 67:00wonderful seeing your work again.

Osti: Thank you, thank you.

------- End of interview -------