Oral history interview with Brenda Kennedy

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

Little Thunder: This is Julie Pearson-Little Thunder. Today is September 29, 2011, and I am interviewing Brenda Kennedy for the Oklahoma Native Artists Project, sponsored by the Oklahoma Oral History Research Program at Oklahoma State University. Brenda, you are Citizen Potawatomi. You're perhaps best known for your paintings of powwow subjects, but you are a versatile artist who's been involved with Indian art for over thirty years. Thank you for taking the time to talk with me.

Kennedy: Thank you, Julie.

Little Thunder: Where were you born, and where did you grow up?

Kennedy: I was born in El Reno, Oklahoma, but I lived all my life [as a child] on a farm west of Geary, Oklahoma. My mother was a schoolteacher, and my father was a farmer and also a carpenter.

Little Thunder: Did you have any experiences with art in primary or secondary school?


Kennedy: I was always interested in art, but I really didn't consider becoming a professional artist. I actually had planned to become a writer. I majored in English, journalism, and Spanish when I was at Southwestern Oklahoma State University. I just gradually found that art was taking over my life. (Laughter) I didn't have formal studies in college in art. I'd had two elective courses, and I honestly can't say that [they provided much] background training in art at that time.

Little Thunder: When you were a child, do you remember your dad drawing, or anybody around the house? Did you like to draw?

Kennedy: Yes, I always drew things. I guess I taught myself to draw by copying pictures out of the big dictionary we had. It had all those nice black and white little cuts, and I would copy them. Then I started copying any kind of art that 2:00appealed to me. I think that's a really good way for somebody to learn initially. [There is] a long tradition of artists copying the great master works in the museums.

Little Thunder: Do you remember when you saw your first piece of Indian art?

Kennedy: I didn't have much exposure to Indian art until I was college age and then after I got married, actually. My husband and his [father] were always interested in Indian art. My folks rather discouraged my promoting the Indian heritage, so I really didn't concentrate on [it] until that time, but I was always interested. Our farm at Geary was at one time a campground for the Cheyenne-Arapaho tribes. When my folks were both younger, right after they got 3:00married, they remember when the Indians actually camped on that site where the farm is now. We still find relics [with a metal detector] out there today. My husband found a little pistol that dated 1932, a pistol that must have belonged to some of the children back then.

Little Thunder: You're [Citizen] Potawatomi on your dad's side, correct?

Kennedy: Right.

Little Thunder: You didn't really go to any doings when you were younger?

Kennedy: No, I didn't. Not at all. [But is was only because I did not want to disrespect my parents' wishes.]

Little Thunder: But your dad did take you and enroll you.

Kennedy: Yes, yes. I wanted to be enrolled. They weren't going to [allow] that for a long time, but they suddenly decided, well, maybe I had a right to be.

Little Thunder: How old were you?

Kennedy: Now, you're going to be counting up my age. (Laughter) I was married. 4:00[I got married at nineteen, after I graduated from college though.]

Little Thunder: Oh, you were already married. So he didn't enroll you when you were younger.

Kennedy: No. [In fact I instigated the enrollment myself. He only provided the background information on my lineage.]

Little Thunder: This was something that you asked for when you were a young adult. You grew up in a part of Oklahoma where there was a lot of racism against Indians.

Kennedy: Absolutely.

Little Thunder: I was just wondering what your memories of that--

Kennedy: My memory is that I didn't really see all that much overt racism because I was sort of isolated, living out on the farm. I was, being an only child, pretty much by myself in the summers. I remember every Wednesday we would have a Merchants Trade Day at Geary. That's when I saw most of the Indians come into town, and I remember there were quite a few of them, actually. I remember the women sitting on the street in their very beautifully colored blankets. Yes, I was always fascinated with Indian culture.


Little Thunder: And your dad just really didn't speak about it?

Kennedy: Not too much, not too much. At the time, as you say, there was rampant racism, and he just felt it was better not to explore that part of his heritage.

Little Thunder: You met your husband at Southwestern. What was he studying?

Kennedy: He was [studying to be] a registered pharmacist. He graduated from Southwestern.

Little Thunder: So he was majoring in pharmacy. You were interested in writing. You were a really good student, I guess, because you graduated at nineteen. How did you manage that? (Laughs)

Kennedy: Maybe they were ready to get rid of me. (Laughter) Well, let's see. I skipped my senior year of high school. The last two courses that I lacked from graduating, I took by correspondence from Southwestern. One of the professors 6:00there agreed to be sort of an advisor to me. So I finished up there, and then I guess I just took a large class load. I went every summer, and I usually took, I think, about twenty-one hours.

Little Thunder: You didn't live on campus, then, or in town, or did you?

Kennedy: I did. I stayed over there. I had a room [in a dorm].

Little Thunder: Tell me a little bit about your first jobs which were in publicity, I guess, but none of them really involved any artwork at all.

Kennedy: No, it was just writing for the public relations office at Southwestern. I worked on the school newspaper, as well. We put out an annual every year in the [spring]. More in the summer than any other time we wrote feature articles about the different teachers around the state that were attending the summer classes. I got a lot of good experience in that. It was 7:00always exciting when one of the stories would be picked up by the United Press or Associated Press at that time.

Little Thunder: Were you also looking at art with Kenny? Were you guys starting to visit any museums?

Kennedy: Oh, yes. We visited any museum we would possibly find, yes.

Little Thunder: He knew of your talent for drawing and painting.

Kennedy: Yes. Yes, he was very encouraging.

Little Thunder: At some point you moved to Muskogee.

Kennedy: Yes, that was his first job as a pharmacist.

Little Thunder: Okay, and you joined the Muskogee Art Guild. Do you remember approximately when that was?

Kennedy: That would've been in the '70s sometime.

Little Thunder: Both Joan Hill and Joan Brown were in the Art Guild. I'm wondering if any other Indian women painters were in the Guild at the time you were?


Kennedy: I don't believe so, not in the art guild, no. I know they had an Indian women's club there at Muskogee called the Dakota Club, and I know they were in that.

Little Thunder: Yes. Did you get involved with that at all?

Kennedy: I wasn't involved with the Dakota Club.

Little Thunder: They helped with the Five Tribes Museum.

Kennedy: Yes they did, absolutely.

Little Thunder: What kinds of instruction did you get at the Art Guild?

Kennedy: We had nationally known teachers come in to give workshops. I think that was a big opportunity to have something right there in our home town, [so] we wouldn't have to pay to go hundreds of miles and have the expense of that. I think the Muskogee Art Guild was very valuable to me.

Little Thunder: What were some of the best workshops that you attended?

Kennedy: Well, one of my favorite people was an artist named Milford Zornes. He was a nationally known watercolorist. He died within, I think, the last two 9:00years. He was in his nineties when he died. I got well acquainted with him because at the time I was president of the Muskogee Art Guild. We also had a juried show. He judged that while he was there. It was just interesting to hear of his many experiences because he has been so well known.

Little Thunder: What particular areas did that workshop help you with?

Kennedy: Well, I think always what I've gotten [the most] out of workshops, [is to] watch demonstrations by other people, more than actually participate in painting something of my own. I feel like I don't ever accomplish much on my own when I'm in a workshop. I just like to see what somebody else is doing.

Little Thunder: And how they approach it.

Kennedy: [Zornes] was an excellent teacher.

Little Thunder: Did you win any awards at the Art Guild competitions?


Kennedy: We had a juried show, and I won the grand award.

Little Thunder: Wonderful! Do you remember what your painting was?

Kennedy: It was of rocks. It was a landscape, a close-up of a lot boulders and rocks.

Little Thunder: Very realistic, kind of?

Kennedy: Yes, [but it emphasized abstract design].

Little Thunder: You went to your first Philbrook annual Indian art show in 1974?

Kennedy: [I had attended several of the Annuals, but 1974 was the first time I competed.]

Little Thunder: I think they had it up to 1979.

Kennedy: Was it? Well, I won the grand award at that competition the very last year they had it. I'm confused, maybe, on my dates [but it] was the very last show they had. I never understood why that ended because it was so popular.

Little Thunder: It was a wonderful show. Well, good, we'll come back to that in a minute. Let's go to the first time you went to that show. Was it the first 11:00Indian art show you'd been to?

Kennedy: It was the first one I participated in. Let's see. I won a prize on a painting and also on a drawing there, so that really spurred me on about as much as anything because I was a bit reluctant to compete at an Indian art show because I thought maybe I wasn't really qualified.

Little Thunder: Did you get to visit with any of the artists at that first show that you entered?

Kennedy: Yes. I remember Ruthe Blalock Jones. She's always been a favorite of mine, [who] went on to become the head of the department at Bacone College. Let me see. I'm trying to think of somebody that stands out. Bert Seabourn was in 12:00the show. I didn't really visit with him at the time, but I had read about his work. I was happy to see them there.

Little Thunder: What style were you using when you first entered? Were you trying that flat style?

Kennedy: I was experimenting with a little bit of everything, as I always have. One of those paintings was a painting with collage, totally abstract. I remember the art critic of the Tulsa World, Maurice De Vinna, at the time, showed a picture of that in the paper as one of the winning pieces. He didn't really say as much, but I think he was implying that [it] was a bunch of hocus pocus at the time. (Laughter)

Little Thunder: Oh my goodness! So you got a lot of PR on that. (Laughter)

Kennedy: But then the other painting was extremely realistic. It was totally the opposite.


Little Thunder: Yes, there were a lot of strictures at that time, unofficial strictures, about what you could do and what you couldn't do as an Indian artist, but definitely the abstract Indian painters were breaking out with these abstract styles. Did you start doing any particular research as you got into Indian subject matter a little bit more? Were you exploring Plains subjects or Potawatomi subjects?

Kennedy: I'd say it was more sort of a compilation of many different tribes. There are so many intertribal powwows where it's not a powwow by just one tribe, but other tribes are invited. I started going to the powwows at our Shawnee tribal powwow grounds. That's where I took many, many pictures. I also like to 14:00do photographs, so I got thousands of research photos there that I am still using to this day. Thirty years later, I still have material that I use, putting [it] together for different paintings.

Little Thunder: So that was your first time you went with Kenny to a powwow, a Potawatomi Nation powwow. Did you also go to a Colony powwow? It was close to Southwestern.

Kennedy: I didn't go to a Colony powwow until several years later. I had to learn what all was available. It was quite a bit after that. We moved back to Oklahoma City, and that's when I was able to go to more things in this region.

Little Thunder: I see. Did your parents get to see some of your paintings with 15:00Indian subject matter?

Kennedy: Yes. Yes, they did.

Little Thunder: How--

Kennedy: Well, they came around. (Laughs) I had a one-person show at the Southern Plains Museum. My father was deceased at that time, but my mother came. She went several times. I know she was pleased, anyway.

Little Thunder: I guess you were always working with a combination of styles, but when did you decide you were going to go in a more realistic direction?

Kennedy: I can't place it at any one particular time because I've always experimented with many different styles. Today, what I think is most me, is a more impressionistic style, and I have decided to concentrate on that more than 16:00anything else because it's what appeals to me.

Little Thunder: One of the ways you did your research which, again, involved taking photographs was that you would do road trips. Can you talk a little bit about those trips? Did you always pre-plan everything?

Kennedy: No, I didn't always pre-plan everything. (Laughs) That doesn't sound like an artist too much, does it? Actually, I did pre-plan to see where I could get the photographs that I thought would be most beneficial to me. But we almost always went to Santa Fe for Indian Market. I did not show at Indian Market, but I loved to be out there, see all the other people and the art work. That was the highlight of my year, going to Santa Fe.

Little Thunder: Did you and Kenny mainly just go to powwows? Was that the research, or did you sometimes go to different parks or places?


Kennedy: We traveled all over Oklahoma. We liked any kind of history, actually, and any kind of local color. I like to see as much of our home state as possible. I feel like there's still a lot missing, towns that I haven't been to. Anything that I can do to focus on Oklahoma history, well, I'm happy.

Little Thunder: Did you ever do any on-site sketching?

Kennedy: I did more photographs. I did some sketching, but it was very sparse, just maybe notations about different coloring and lighting.

Little Thunder: When did you start dealing with galleries, approximately?

Kennedy: Let's see. My first gallery was with the Oklahoma Art Center. Imogene Mugg was a woman who owned the gallery at that time. I enjoyed working with her. 18:00I guess she had seen some of my work at different places and asked me to join. I always thought that was a very fun, enjoyable show.

Little Thunder: They had lots of people who would turn out for that.

Kennedy: Yes, absolutely. That was my first place.

Little Thunder: How many paintings, typically, would you put into that?

Kennedy: Oh, maybe five. Yes, every artist out there--and there were quite a few [had at least that many]. It was a [big] show.

Little Thunder: Then you also dealt with Indian Territory Gallery, I guess.

Kennedy: Yes. I was at the Trail of Tears competition at Tahlequah one year. I hadn't met Shirley Wells, the owner, before then. She came over and said one of my collectors had asked her why didn't she get some paintings in by me. (Laughter) So she came and made my acquaintance. I was very flattered. We worked with Shirley for as long as we possibly could. I was so sorry to lose her.


Little Thunder: She asked for an exclusive on you, actually.

Kennedy: For a while, yes. She did a good job. She about worked me to death, though. (Laughter) I think that was the only problem. She could get more things for me to do than what I could accomplish.

Little Thunder: Was it in terms of getting paintings that she was turning so fast?

Kennedy: I'm not really a fast painter. I pick around on it too long, more than necessary. I am really not used to working rapidly, but I really admire the people who can. She was very good about getting commissions for all kinds of things. She even got me on the cover of several phonebooks one year with one of my paintings.

Little Thunder: Oh, neat! Oklahoma phonebooks?

Kennedy: Yes. She was a wonderful person and a wonderful gallery owner.


Little Thunder: You did do a number of commissions. That was an important part of your gallery work.

Kennedy: Yes, and commissions are the thing that I least like to do because, [as] I say, I just go on and on and on. I probably should've quit months before, but I'm constantly trying to improve it, and it never satisfies me. I am not the best person to recommend for a commission, I wouldn't imagine. (Laughter)

Little Thunder: Sometimes getting the business part of the art business is the most difficult, and it's a two-person deal, too. I don't know if Kenny handled a lot of that, or did you?

Kennedy: No, he didn't really handle the business part except to be a great helper to me. He encouraged me in everything.

Little Thunder: When you were doing booth shows, you were selling originals. Was 21:00there a time when you were ready to get into prints, and how did you make that decision?

Kennedy: For myself, I've never been that interested in making prints. I have made some, but I think it's really difficult to store them. If you have a big inventory of anything, where do you put [it]? That's been one of my problems. Still, I would prefer to just do [mainly] originals. [However,] you might not make near the money you would if you sold a lot of multiples.

Little Thunder: In the '80s, for example, booth shows weren't as important to you?

Kennedy: No. In fact, the only booth show I do [now] is Red Earth, and I haven't done it for several years. I vowed that I would go back and do it this [past] year if it killed me. I didn't really have the inventory that I would like to 22:00have had, but I made myself go anyway because I like to support what we have locally.

Little Thunder: Yes, and all the artists were glad to see you there, too. You have been involved in that show since it opened, Red Earth?

Kennedy: I don't think I was in it the first three years, but then I was in it for a number of years. I've won a total of eight medals there. A lot of years I just didn't go [because] Ken was sick at that time.

Little Thunder: What was your most important art award, do you think?

Kennedy: Well, I think some of the top awards that I have won at Red Earth and at the Trail of Tears were important to me. I won the grand award at the Fort Smith, Arkansas, art center six-state competition. That was a good award for me.


Little Thunder: Was this in the ʼ80s?

Kennedy: Yes. I can't remember the exact dates off-hand.

Little Thunder: When you won your first grand award, how did that feel?

Kennedy: Well, that was really amazing, [but] I guess the most important award [to me] was the grand award at the last Philbrook American Indian Artist competition. That was a powwow scene. It was mainly material from our Potawatomi powwow with other things interjected. I believe that one meant the most to me.

Little Thunder: Wonderful. How do you think the Indian art scene changed between the '80s and the '90s?

Kennedy: I think a lot of the younger artists are more open to experimentation. They're doing a lot of subject matter that isn't all totally Indian. They feel 24:00free now that they can do whatever they want. Because they are an Indian artist doesn't mean everything they do has to be [an] Indian painting. I like to see the different styles coming out, but I like the old traditional, also.

Little Thunder: When you were looking through your scrap, getting ready to pick a dancer or a group of dancers or a couple of spectators to focus on, what kinds of qualities do you look for that you think are going to make interesting subjects?

Kennedy: I'm always interested in people's personality traits, their gestures, how they're sitting. I think I'm interested more about Indians as individuals, rather than [Indian stereotypes]. I find that individual personality excites me.


Little Thunder: Kate Osage, speaking of personalities, is one of your better known portraits, and she's kind of a legend around the Cheyenne-Arapaho community. How did you come across her?

Kennedy: Like I said, I didn't go to Colony powwows until more recent years, and she happened to be [there not too long before she died]. I took many pictures of her. I wish I could just keep painting her. She was such an interesting woman.

Little Thunder: Did she get to see her portrait at all?

Kennedy: I think she died before she got to see it, [but not from me].

Little Thunder: But she knew you were an artist.

Kennedy: Well, she didn't talk a whole lot. (Laughter) [I was told she did not speak English.] Yes, she knew I was an artist, but we didn't [get to] have [a] great conversation. She was very happy to pose for me, [however].

Little Thunder: Have you done much judging of art shows?

Kennedy: Yes, I've [judged] a lot of minor shows, and I had the honor of being 26:00one of the judges at Red Earth a few years ago. That was fun. It's always interesting to see the varying opinions. I really can't decide whether it's better to [have] an individual judge where [the winners] reflect one personal view point, or whether it's better to have several. Sometimes if you have judging by committee, you finally sort of just give up and, "You take this one. I'll [pick the next] one."

Little Thunder: Do you remember how the Indian art landscape changed from the '90s to the 2000s? Does anything stand out?

Kennedy: It's just changing in that the older artist aren't practicing as much. 27:00A lot of them are in bad health. We lost a lot of artists during the last five years. I think we just have to wait to see what this new crop [will] do.

Little Thunder: In 1990 the Indian Arts and Crafts Act was passed, requiring people to provide proof of citizenship or have a letter from the tribe. Do you remember how that impacted different galleries and individuals?

Kennedy: I know some friends of mine could not prove they were actually enrolled. That did change a lot of the artwork that some of them did. They couldn't enter those shows anymore. It didn't really impact me [much]. I've been 28:00enrolled since 1974. It didn't make that much difference in my artwork.

Little Thunder: How long have you been collecting works by other artists? I mean, some artists really do get the collecting bug, too, or trading bug.

Kennedy: I have been collecting ever since I could afford to buy anything, I think. (Laughter)

Little Thunder: In college?

Kennedy: Well, I couldn't afford anything in college, so I didn't have it then. I think one of our first paintings was Fred Beaver--

Little Thunder: That you and Ken bought?

Kennedy: --when we lived in Muskogee. Yes. I think it was thirty dollars, and so that was a lot of money at the time when we were first starting out.

Little Thunder: You've got some really beautiful paintings by a number of Indian artists here.


Kennedy: Well, thank you.

Little Thunder: If you and Ken were both interested in something, did anybody's desires trump the other, or did you usually agree?

Kennedy: I'd say we usually had about the same taste. His father collected some Indian pieces, so he was just always attuned to it.

Little Thunder: I'm thinking back to what you said about the fact that his [father] was always interested in both Indian art and Indian culture.

Kennedy: It was more his father. His father just loved all kinds of Indian lore and memorabilia.

Little Thunder: So that was kind of another incentive or permission for you to start exploring. I'd like to talk a bit about your artistic practices, like 30:00water media are your preferred media?

Kennedy: [For] my first attempt at painting, I got a set of oils in Muskogee, but they just didn't seem to suit my temperament. I'm slow, but [in] oils, you have to observe a lot of rules [such as] painting thick over thin, etcetera, etcetera. So, I thought I'd try acrylics, and they seemed to suit me better. Lately, I have found some new acrylics that have been on the market for just a few years now. You can spray water on them, re-dissolve them and keep working wet on wet. There's all kinds of different mediums that help you get different effects, and I really see hope for that, for me, anyway.


Little Thunder: That sounds really interesting. Did you work with alkyds at all? Am I remembering that right? And gouache?

Kennedy: Yes. In fact, before I discovered these new acrylics, for years I had been working in alkyds because they [behave] a lot like acrylics. They usually dry by the next day. They're actually pretty dry within an hour, where they're just sort of sticky. [They] would be my next favorite medium after these acrylics. It's sort of a toss-up between those two, I guess.

Little Thunder: Have you ever tried any three-dimensional work at all?

Kennedy: I've always had visions of grandeur of trying everything, but I've found that I actually need to concentrate more on my painting because [I] could just start dabbling all the time. I tried a pottery class at the Oklahoma City 32:00Art Center just to do something different, because a friend of mine wanted me to go with him. I found that--I love the pottery, but throwing on a wheel or even hand building just doesn't work for me as well as [painting and drawing].

Little Thunder: When was this? Was this earlier in the ʼ70s?

Kennedy: No, this was just in the last few years. I was trying something different. It didn't turn out to be what I was best at.

Little Thunder: Some of my favorites, these are pieces that were done a while ago, but they have that black background. It's kind of a vein of traditional art, almost. Doc Tate really developed that, the figures against the black background. Of course, when you're working more realistically or 33:00impressionistically, the black is working differently. I wonder if you can talk about what attracted you to the black.

Kennedy: I've always liked black backgrounds. They make the design of a painting stand out so much more. They show off the colors [and emphasize the abstract]. It's just a personal feeling. It's just the drama.

Little Thunder: A lot of your works during the '80s, a trademark would be, you'd have this more realistically executed figure, and then you'd have kind of a penciled-in outline of another different person next to them. Can you talk about what interested you about that juxtaposition?

Kennedy: Well, like you say, juxtaposition. It emphasizes one figure over all the rest. Maybe it gives a more emotional feel, I think, to have a pencil line 34:00around [the main subject] and very muted features on the other figures.

Little Thunder: How important is story to your work, having a story line going?

Kennedy: I think it varies with each different piece. I like to emphasize emotion more than a particular story. I love some of the great illustrative painters that, for example, show out at the [National] Cowboy [Museum]. They do fabulous work, but if I had to make a decision, I would pick the feeling of the painting over the story[line, although their art works on both levels].


Little Thunder: How did you come up with your signature? Sometimes that's a bit of a process.

Kennedy: I've always wanted to [use] my own name. I [want] to be Brenda Kennedy. I decided I owed it to my husband to be Brenda Kennedy Grummer after we got married, but he always encouraged me to use my maiden name. So, in fact, in the last few years, I've been using Brenda Kennedy. That's probably what I will be using from now on. I'm not doing anything disrespectful to him, because he was all for it.

Little Thunder: What is your creative process, typically, from the time you come up with an idea?

Kennedy: Sometimes I'll be lying in bed at night, and I'll think of something that I've seen, something I want to portray. Then I'll get up and sketch it out, and find reference materials that would go along with [it]. Sometimes I'm guilty 36:00of not drawing everything out like we are supposed to be doing and getting it all completely planned. Sometimes I change the painting midstream, even. I work all over [the canvas]. I have one we were talking about earlier, a mother and child picture. I got that [done], and I didn't like the mother. I've blocked her out now, and I'm starting again with a different pose.

Little Thunder: When you say you get up and sketch a piece, are you following through at night when you see that image in your head, or is it the next morning?

Kennedy: [Usually] it would be the next morning. I have to mull it over for a while. Sometimes when you go to sleep your solutions are presented to you. [I'm 37:00really an early morning person anyway.]

Little Thunder: When you look back on your career, what do you think was kind of a fork-in-the-road moment for you?

Kennedy: I really think if there is such a thing as that one fork in the road, maybe it was winning that grand award at the last American Indian artist show at Philbrook. That short of cinched it for me that I was on the path, anyway.

Little Thunder: Right, that you'd chosen the right kind of art to explore. What's your creative routine nowadays? I know you're just, the last year or so, getting back into shows, but when you can have that schedule, what do you--

Kennedy: I like to start out early in the morning. I'm really a morning person. I've never been one [who best works] into the late hours of the night. I might 38:00get up at three or four o'clock and start something [though]. I feel like I have more energy and more creativity in those hours, [but] sometimes when [I'm] getting ready for a show, [I] just have to work all of it.

Little Thunder: I know you've done a lot of figurative work, but I'm remembering seeing paintings with horses. Have you explored any animal imagery at all?

Kennedy: Yes, I have done some wildlife. In fact, I'll probably be doing more because I grew up in the country, and I like landscape and [wildlife]. [I've done more of] the Indian things because [I've been] caught up in one type of show. There's not enough hours in the day to do everything. I'm very interested 39:00in doing more landscape.

Little Thunder: Okay, yes. I know, with my husband, there's always pressure from others. "Put somebody in that landscape." So have you got some spots in mind for your landscapes?

Kennedy: Well, sometimes I [enjoy] landscapes that you don't ordinarily see painted, like in January-February. It's a [more subtle] kind of a season. You notice the drier [muted] fields. You can sometimes get a more emotional feeling 40:00out of that than anything else. I like [the] barren [landscape] around Oklahoma. I still have the old family farm out at Geary, and I [love] to go out there. Other than that, I love New Mexico. I think all of us artists love Santa Fe [and] the Southwestern landscape.

Little Thunder: When you go back to the farm, then, do you ever paint over there, or do you just go for the day?

Kennedy: I usually just go for the day or the weekend. I haven't been working out at the farm very much lately. I actually don't stay out there much because of security reasons. Out there, I'm isolated and in this day and time, you can't be too cautious.

Little Thunder: When you look back on your career, what's been one of the 41:00highlights for you?

Kennedy: Well, I still say that grand award at Philbrook was one of them. I've won awards at different places in different states, but I still think that probably changed me more than anything.

Little Thunder: What's been one of the more difficult times for you?

Kennedy: I guess I've had a number of family members die [in recent years]. It makes me very emotional. That's always hard. You can't get back very quickly. It takes a while.

Little Thunder: Have you had a chance to do any teaching of art?

Kennedy: I have taught some workshops, [but] again, I'm not somebody [who] wants to teach as much as I [probably] should. [I just prefer to paint.]


Little Thunder: Those talks are kind of scary.

Kennedy: Well, yes, they're kind of scary, [but they also take a lot of time for preparation when I would rather be painting].

Little Thunder: Do you remember your first public talk?

Kennedy: I made some [talks] at Muskogee when I was with the Art Guild. I taught a workshop there [and also at Northeastern State University]. I guess my first 43:00major talk other than that was at the Oklahoma Art Center, at Imogene Mugg's gallery. She asked me to give a presentation one Sunday afternoon.

Little Thunder: Is there anything that we've forgotten to talk about that you'd like to cover?

Kennedy: I think we've pretty much covered it. I'm sure I'll think of something later on. This has been a lot of fun.

Little Thunder: We are going to take a look at your paintings here. This is a photograph that you would take for scrap, except it's also just a beautiful piece of artwork in its own right. Where was this taken?

Kennedy: This was also at our Potawatomi powwow many years ago. This man is deceased now. When I take a photograph that stands on its own, I like to just leave it as a photograph rather than try to [make] it [into] a painting.


Little Thunder: Oh, you don't even use it for that. That's a really neat angle.

Kennedy: Thank you. I just call that The Man on the Front Row.

Little Thunder: And that personality shows through. Here we're looking at, like, an earlier piece when you were more into your realistic style, a young woman who was the daughter of one of the artists?

Kennedy: An artist who always comes to Red Earth named Tchin.

Little Thunder: We can see the realism here. Now we're going to take a look at this style that you're really enjoying right now.

Kennedy: This was a recent painting done in a style that I'm using more now [an] impressionistic style. It's done with water solvable acrylic. Well, all acrylic is water solvable, but this is the one [that] you can work on and on and on with, sort of like an oil paint. This won an award at Red Earth this year. I 45:00believe [it] is the type of thing that I will be concentrating on in the future. It suits my temperament.

Little Thunder: Two war dancers contesting. You can see just how much it does resemble oil. It's really just amazing when you get a close look at the texture.

Kennedy: Yes, it looks a lot like a pastel, actually, from the style I work in.

Little Thunder: Does it have a lot of under painting?

Kennedy: Yes. Many, many layers. I like a layered look. You can see what's underneath, and just build it up until you get a very interesting surface texture.

Little Thunder: This is one in process. Go ahead a tell us a little about it.


Kennedy: That's right. This is a mother and child that I saw at Santa Fe Indian Market one year. That's probably ten, fifteen years ago. I had the mother drawn out, but I just didn't like the expression. There was something that just didn't work for me, so I've painted white over where she was, and I am going to develop a different figure for that particular spot. This is layered in acrylic. I put a coat of acrylic on, then I blot it with something like a newspaper or whatever, to make a texture, then go over it with another color and so on. I like a lot of layering.

Little Thunder: That's going to be beautiful when it's done.

Kennedy: Thank you.

Little Thunder: You have a couple of pieces at the Citizen Potawatomi Tribal Museum.

Kennedy: Yes, one of them [is] a large painting of a dollar bill with an Indian 47:00on it. I call it Trade It To An Indian. I put it in a really gaudy, ornate frame, bright psychedelic-type colors and little humorous sayings on it. They had mentioned they wanted to put it in the club or the casino, so I'm not sure where it's hanging right now. [They also own a] powwow scene.

Little Thunder: How does it feel? That's been a long road, from getting enrolled to having a piece in your tribal museum. How does that feel?

Kennedy: It's always exciting. It's a great honor when anybody wants to own a piece of your work.

Little Thunder: Thank you so much for your time today, Brenda. I really appreciate talking to you.

Kennedy: Thank you, Julie

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