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Little Thunder: My name is Julie Pearson-Little Thunder. Today is Thursday, May 7, 2015, and I'm interviewing Juanita Pahdopony for the Oklahoma Native Artist Project sponsored by the Oklahoma Oral History Research Program at Oklahoma State University. We are in Lawton at Juanita's house. Juanita, you're an artist perhaps best known for your mixed media works. You're also an educator, an activist, a writer, and even the subject of a documentary film. Thank you for taking the time to talk with me.

Pahdopony: Thank you.

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

Pahdopony: I was born in Portland, Oregon, although I know nothing of Portland, Oregon. (Laughs) I grew up just up the hill from here, my house. It was lovingly called the Comanche Yellow Mission. It was an Indian community that surrounded what's now called the Comanche Reform Church area, but at the time that I grew 1:00up it was a little Comanche community. Didn't know anybody else that happened to be another tribe, but we did have some people that were Kiowa, and I learned later, and Caddo, so we did have some mixed marriages there.

Little Thunder: Your folks had already moved back from Portland when you were an infant, I guess?

Pahdopony: Yes. Well, it's a long, convoluted history.

Little Thunder: What did they do for a living? What did your mom and dad do?

Pahdopony: My mom worked at the Indian Health Service [Hospital]. Early on, she was a seamstress. It was during the times when doctors' coats needed mending or something had to be autoclaved. I always remember that word. It had to be autoclaved, which meant that it had to be sterilized, so she did get things 2:00ready for that. But she wore a blue uniform. When I was a young girl, I thought she was a blue nurse. I didn't know. She thought that was pretty funny.

My father worked for the Department of Interior. He was a soil and moisture conservation technician and again, just right up the hill when it was located there. Actually, on this same road. My mother worked across the highway on I-44 at the IHS Indian Hospital.

Little Thunder: How about siblings?

Pahdopony: I grew up as an only child with my parents, Sam and Marjorie Pahdopony. My mother was a Quanah Parker descendant and she was from the Quahadi 3:00band. My father was from the Penatuka, or Honey Eaters, Wasp Stinging band of Comanche.

Little Thunder: How about your relationship with your grandparents on either side?

Pahdopony: On my dad's side, they were very mysterious to me. They were Peyote People, at least his father was. Now, I never met my dad's mother, our grandmother. I never met her because she was gone before I came on the scene. But she was very Christian and she was an original member of the Comanche Reformed Church, which was, in those days, called the Dutch Reformed Church. It was one of the missionary movements. Started out as a missionary movement when 4:00the Comanche were divided up among several missionaries. Some were Baptists, some were Dutch Reformed, some were Methodists, some very few, I think, Catholic.

Little Thunder: And on your mom's side?

Pahdopony: On my mom's side, my mom was a Quanah Parker descendant, the Quahadi people. She came from a big, large family in Walters, Oklahoma. I just have good memories of uncles, and aunties, and the stories, and a lot of teasing. Just a big family. In fact, my mother, her family didn't want her to marry my father because there was only one other person, his brother Howard, and they thought that was just too weird. They were used to a big family and they were very 5:00suspicious of my father being in such a tiny family.

Little Thunder: You were around the language quite a bit.

Pahdopony: I was around the language because my mother and father were fluent speakers and I would hear them talking. They stopped whenever I was around, but they still used some particular words. They taught me little things like maybe animal names and I heard some things over and over that stayed with me, but as far teaching me or wanting me to learn the language, no, because they were very colonized. They were both boarding school products and they were taught, "No, you don't use the old language."

I remember my father saying to me, "I want you to be successful in the white man's world. I want you to be able to be successful, so there's no need for you to learn the language." (Ah, how sad.) Then, in my dad's last few years, he 6:00apologized to me because he always saw me struggling to learn and asking him questions. He said, "I'm so sorry because it would have been so easy. It would have been so easy for your mother and me to teach you the language and I'm sorry. I apologize to you." We just were quiet about it for a while. It was hard for me to not cry.

Little Thunder: It's okay. It's a gift.

Pahdopony: I'm so emotional about that.

Little Thunder: What is your first memory of seeing Native art?

Pahdopony: My first memory of seeing art was when I was a baby in a crib because I remember standing on my tippy toes holding onto the top of a crib, and stretching and stretching to look up on the wall and see a German print. It was of an angel's arms, out like this and two children crossing a rickety old bridge.

It's such a clear, vivid memory of my seeing that image and not having the 7:00language, of course, but knowing that I wanted to be near it and stretching to see. It was way up on the wall. I'm an advocate for, "Please bring your art down on the wall for someone in a wheel chair or babies to look at," because art should be accessible.

Little Thunder: That's an amazing story. How about your first memory of making art?

Pahdopony: My first memory of making art would be, because I grew up alone, and I was always outside--in fact, I like to say I grew in a chinaberry tree (Laughter) because my parents were working all day. I was home alone, and I would make breakfast. Then, I would take it up in a sack and be up in the tree.

I remember spending a lot of time, looking at the landscape, looking at the 8:00land, looking at bugs, looking at everything. I saw oil after a rain. I saw oil from a car on the roads, looking at the beautiful iridescent colors, and thinking, "I wish I could save that. I wish I could save that."

Then I remember seeing--it influenced a later piece from the H2O exhibit--I remember seeing the dried up mud that formed little images and designs. I thought to myself, "That's got to be chocolate. It looks like chocolate. If I believe it's chocolate, it's going to be chocolate." It wasn't chocolate. It was a mud pie, but I looked at everything like that. I was very interested in designs and colors, the iridescence on bugs. I remember I was just very 9:00interested in the world.

I remember drawing in the sand with a stick. I mean, that's probably my earliest memory of making something. Then, every year at the Dutch Reformed Church, they would give out a huge bag full of gifts. I always looked for the art things like the watercolors, or the crayons, or something like that. One year I had some finger paints. I remember my thrill at being able to play in finger paints. It's the first time I had something quite like that. I really enjoyed that.

Little Thunder: So tactile.

Pahdopony: Yes.

Little Thunder: How about extended family in terms of--you mentioned your mother was a seamstress-- that might have been artistic influences--

Pahdopony: She was very creative because she could always, she was problem 10:00solver. She would laugh at her position because she said, "I never made a dress, I never sewed on a machine before this job but," she said, "I had that title." She could look at something and make something fit. She could repair something. She had very creative ways. She knew measurements like from my nose to my elbow is one yard or--I don't know, she had measurements like that. I remember her talking about it. She was very creative.

Little Thunder: What kinds of art experiences did you have in elementary school and middle school?

Pahdopony: I lived for art in school, my early experiences. That's why I was in school, was the little bit of time that we spent in art. I remember living for those times. I was in the third grade and I had a teacher named Miss Moss. I 11:00wasn't really an achiever then. I remember Miss Moss--we had a little assignment and it had to do with numbers. Draw three firetrucks and draw--.

Kids are more sophisticated these days, but that little assignment. I remember taking my time and care, excited about it. I remember her saying, "Juanita Pahdopony come with me up to the front of the room." I thought, "Oh no. What did I do?" I was so afraid. I remember my heart beating fast. She brought me to the front of the room and she said, "Now show everybody your paper. I want them to look at your work."

She had me go, oh my gosh, up and down every aisle to show everybody. I was so proud. (Laughs) It was the first time I remember that first experience of success because I remember being in the second grade and I had a reading 12:00teacher, and I was in a slow reading group, when really I could read very well.

I knew every word, but because I was in the Red Bird reading group, (and it was all Indians by the way), everybody, "Tip--went--to--" It was like that. I remember doing that, too. I didn't have to do it, but everybody else did, so I did it, too, although, I could read very well.

Little Thunder: It's great to have that support in school a little bit.

Pahdopony: Yes.

Little Thunder: And your parents too? Were they supportive of your artwork?

Pahdopony: They were. They enjoyed seeing my art. (Laughs)

Little Thunder: How about junior high or high school? What standout memories of art do you have?

Pahdopony: I remember being very frightened to go to junior high because I heard people got into fights there. I was just really afraid. I don't really have any outstanding memories other than I had forgotten to learn, you might have to 13:00erase this part, let's see what was it? "Four Score--" Lincoln's Gettysburg Address. "Four score and seven years ago--"

I remember I had a very--I had a teacher that really frightened me. Her name was Mrs. Grundy. Can you imagine having a name like Mrs. Grundy? Anyway, she said, "Everybody you were supposed to have learned this, so we are going to go up and down the row and you say it." Do you know I learned it? I was so frightened of her by the time it got to me, (thank god, I was toward the end), that I learned the whole thing?

Little Thunder: You had it in your memory?

Pahdopony: Yeah, I still know it. I still know it today. That's one-- I don't really have any outstanding memories of, I must have been asleep through junior high. In high school, I remember taking art and getting to know other people 14:00that were taking art, too. I was intrigued by some of the things. I still didn't really relate to it so much, but I did enjoy art.

Little Thunder: You got some painting?

Pahdopony: Yes. I--

Little Thunder: Basic painting background?

Pahdopony: Yes, a little bit of it. Very basic.

Little Thunder: Right. What happened after high school, then?

Pahdopony: I went to Cameron [University]. I was not sure what I wanted to do. I must have changed my major a hundred times. I think I began to realize that art classes, really, there was so much more to them. Printmaking, figure drawing, painting. There was a lot more to art than I had seen before, and I just began to come alive at that time.


Little Thunder: What media drew you the most?

Pahdopony: I loved painting. See, I had always, because in high school you use the little watercolors, Prang Oval, right? Prang Oval Eight with the one-size little brush. I did everything with that one little brush. Everything. I didn't know about having other size brushes and fine brushes, and brushes that were sable or other materials. I didn't know about all that. I think that's why I say I came alive because there was so much more material to explore and it was just so exciting.

Little Thunder: Were you thinking at the time that you wanted to be a professional artist? How did you--

Pahdopony: I wasn't sure how I could make a living at being an artist, but I just took the classes and enjoyed them. Then I thought maybe I could teach art. I began going in that direction. That really wasn't fully me at that time. I 16:00remember just--I was in education and I was in art. I loved art. But I had some experiences, too, in art, early experiences that I wasn't sure that that was what I wanted to do.

Then, I had an instructor that taught mixed media way back. I remember just loving--and I guess one of the things I remember is that I remember tearing up paper and standing on a chair and dropping those torn papers onto the canvas and then gluing them there where they fell. That would be the beginning of the collage. I remember thinking, "This is it. This is it." That was so thrilling to 17:00be able to--and create it, to be able to start art.

Little Thunder: And then, it was sort of a newer thing?

Pahdopony: Yes.

Little Thunder: The mixed media.

Pahdopony: Yes, and to be able to create composition with color. That was pretty exciting.

Little Thunder: I think I read that you just went to Cameron? Is that right?

Pahdopony: I went to Cameron for two years and then I went to Southwestern Oklahoma State University. That's where I began to learn a lot more about art, the different--I learned about mixed media and it was very exciting to me. Then, I was home for twelve years. I married and then I was pretty much at home taking some distance courses. Then I was asked to come and teach art in Talihina, 18:00Oklahoma. I remember just enjoying that. It was a half-day class. I enjoyed teaching art. It was pretty exciting.

Little Thunder: Completely different cultural--

Pahdopony: Completely different--

Little Thunder: --landscape.

Pahdopony: Then I began to have my family. Every so often, I would do art (but not really fully participating) here and there once in a while in an art show. I remember when I did art, I had a lot of compliments or awards or ribbons, and they would say, "Oh my gosh. This is so good."

I remember somebody putting up a pumpkin still life, and I remember doing my still life from the bottom up, doing a still life, the bottom of the pumpkin. 19:00Everybody was "Oh my, that's so unusual." I just thought it was boring to do a pumpkin still life, so I wanted to do it in a different way. I had little experiences like that, that for me, were unusual and creative and I knew I wanted to do more art--

Little Thunder: So being able to shift from these small little booth shows, and then you have this period where you're raising your family?

Pahdopony: Yes.

Little Thunder: Then, you start becoming invited to some museum shows. What was one of the most significant early museum shows that you did--

Pahdopony: I think having some shows at the Museum of the Great Plains, and being in group shows exhibiting with the Comanche artists. There was a group called Comanche Gallery of Art, and it was made up of people like George Smith 20:00Watchetaker, Wakeah Bradley, William Poafpybitty, Leonard Riddles. Some of them really became my early mentors in Indian art. I saw their art and while I never really copied their style, I saw them as real artists.

I saw them as people that knew the history, and they were documenting the history and a very important historical place in life. Not even just as an artist, but as another dimension to it, documenting the history. I really admired them and they were my mentors. I saw their colors they put together and 21:00the style that they had. Each one had a unique style. I really--I'm so thankful that I had that experience.

Little Thunder: So when you did show with the Museum of the Great Plains, and it might have been a later show, you did a piece that was an only daughter's dress. I don't know if that was--

Pahdopony: That was much later, way after my mentors had passed on, but I did remember a story and it stayed with me. I had a friend named Charlotte Declue, and she was a poet. I told her one time, "What makes a good poem?" She thought about it for a while and she says, "It has to have memory. And then sometimes it has a punch that takes you in a different direction."

I've always thought about that because I think that art is the same way. It has to have memory. If you see an art piece and it stays with you, you think about 22:00it, then it has memory. Or if it has something unexpected about, not predictable, but something that you don't expect, then that has a punch just like poetry. There was a connection there because I did both. I think art for me is the same as poetry. It has to be memorable.

One of those memories was for a Comanche Elder named Ray Niedo told me a story. He complimented me on my Comanche dress wear when I danced at powwows. He said, "Nita, I really like the way you dress. You dress in, not the shiny, in the 23:00little more traditional way." Because people were starting to wear shiny materials and he didn't like it. He was letting me know that he appreciated a little bit more what he knew as Comanche traditional dress. I was just thrilled that he was talking to me, so I listened to his story.

I wanted to continue to engage him in a conversation and so I said, "There is one dress I wanted to get his opinion on it. There was one dress that I always wanted to wear. It was black velvet with cowrie shells." He said, "Most of our people no longer know this, but that was an only daughter's dress. The only daughter could wear that and you're one of the people that could wear that," he said to me.


Decades later, I had that memory and I decided to do an art piece. I wanted to do it in a more abstract way. Our dresses are T dresses, like some people say, very simple, shaped like a T, but with the elbow to the under the arm is open on both sides. I designed it and did the black velvet dress and the cowrie shells.

Little Thunder: Made it very three-dimensional.

Pahdopony: Yes, very three-dimensional, yes. It's one of the pieces that I think is a very strong, memorable piece.

Little Thunder: We are going to look at later. Also, there is a funny story about the purchase of that dress.

Pahdopony: Yes. I had just finished it and as everything is drying, the glue and 25:00everything is being sewn together, I took it to the Museum of the Great Plains. A lot of times I've done this with shows. My paint is still drying and I'm with a hair dryer trying to get everything dry before the show, to make the show. But I had just finished the last pieces of that, getting it together, brought it to the show, and the Museum of the Great Plains registrar saw it and bought it. The show wasn't even open, but he wanted to buy it and talk to me about it.

I thought, "Oh, I didn't even get a chance to enjoy it." It came from a story from a Comanche elder, and I didn't anticipate selling it right away or even at all. I asked him it would be okay if I could make that again for my--. "Yeah, sure." He was fine with that, so I did it for myself.

Little Thunder: That's how we get to look at it?


Pahdopony: Yes, that's how we can film it. (Laughs)

Little Thunder: What do you think was that transition because you are influenced by these older painters, you're painting primarily, and then gradually you're working your way towards more mixed media pieces?

Pahdopony: I believe I, in teaching art, I was able to come across more sculptural pieces that I really enjoyed. I always loved Henry Moore's work, the simplicity of it. The images are just beautiful. I had admired work like [Roy] Lichtenstein, some of the mobiles--enjoyed that for the color. So I began 27:00looking at those art--studying about them, reading about them, even once in a while, being able to see a show, because I did get to see a Lichtenstein show. Thrilled about that.

Little Thunder: Where at?

Pahdopony: It was in New York. So I think looking at that and then thinking about it. I took a course with Benson Warren who was a sculptor, well-known sculptor at Cameron University. I took a course later, but I didn't quite have it all together. I remember almost being a failure in that class, not being able to come up with what he expected to see out of me. I remember having a very difficult time. I'm not sure if he was just testing me or what, but I really had a difficult time surviving in that class.

Once I remember submitting thirty-two designs before he finally approved one, 28:00and it was like [sigh], "Whew. Finally." But even though I wasn't terribly successful in that class, it was memorable to me and it stayed with me. I couldn't forget it. I went over the things we learned. It stayed with me and I stayed with it until I finally got the concept of it. It wasn't so hard after all. It was just me resisting it and making--I'm not sure what the holdup was, but there was some hurdle that I had to get over before I could finally let go-- "Don't worry about being competitive. Simply do what you can do and what you want to depict."

I don't know if that's it or not, but for some reason or another, I began to do some pieces that were more mixed media. I loved collage. That was mixed media, 29:00so that was still flat, but then I began to--I believe what happened to me was that I had jobs in my career, teaching and teaching at the college level that really took a lot of my time and energy. I did not have the time to paint, but I did have time to think about the art and conceptually how things fit together. And also putting that together with my early training, with my mentors on the history, documentary history and our stories, our wonderful stories, putting those together, and in my head incubating, incubating until I had an idea and I could execute it in an evening, a conceptual piece.


One of them was--Eva Williams and I are friends. She's another artist. I really respect her work. She and I both had the same opportunity through Cameron to put a show together, to curate a show because they couldn't think of anything to do. They wondered if we might put together a show. I thought they had only contacted me, but somehow or another she got more information and knew that we were both contacted. She said, "Let's collaborate. Let's do a show together." We met here and talked about, "What are you thinking?" She said, "I want to do a show with Indian women. I've always wanted to do that." I said that sounds neat." Then, she said, "What are you thinking? What are you thinking?" I said, "The first thing I'm thinking is--" (here I go, I can't think of her name, Judy? The one who did the table, you know--)


Little Thunder: Oh yes. She's the artist and feminist, yeah.

Pahdopony: Wait, let me just, I did have her work in here. I just remembered it was Judy Chicago. She did a piece, it was a ceramic piece and it was a triangle table and it had very famous women like Cleopatra, other important women in history. I identified with that, documenting history. Indira Gandhi--she had amazing women throughout history that were invited to this dinner party. She had ceramic dinnerware place setting for each of them in a triangle. The whole bottom on the floor was little separate tiles.


I think there were 500 of other women, women scientists, women inventors, women artists, women political leaders. It was actually a very wonderful tribute to women throughout history, although we're not really in books. I told her I was thinking about that. Could we do something that was similar? She said, "Sure. That's a good idea."

Annette Arkeketa, who was with us at the time, she said, "Did you know if we are going to have this table that we have Joy Harjo who wrote a very important poem about everything takes place at the table?" Our children, our weddings are planned there, our deaths are planned there. We eat together, we celebrate together, everything happens at the table. Children hide under the table. We 33:00have a lot of stories about the table." We decided to contact her and ask if we could use her poem for the theme.

Then we talked about let's not have a design that's a triangle, that doesn't seem to fit us so much. But a circle would. We didn't want to have the same round circle, boring circle. We decided to do individual tables that would fit together at the top. Each person had--we would do an odd number because we thought, "Somebody's always missing at the table. Somebody passes on, somebody has other appointments. For some reason not everybody can be at the table. There's always somebody forgotten. An odd number would recognize that missing person." We came together with this very powerful show, I believe. It seemed--I 34:00wanted more from the show. I think I wanted the show to continue on and travel.

Little Thunder: Travel.

Pahdopony: We talked about that, but it didn't happen. We did have eleven artists that submitted a work. We thought about people that we wanted to invite to this very special exhibit.

Little Thunder: That's wonderful. What year was that?

Pahdopony: What year? Good grief. It's in here. Our Place at the Table, November 2007.

Little Thunder: Two thousand seven.

Pahdopony: Yes, it was a collaborative project of eleven American Indian women, exploring the impact of statehood on their personal histories.

Little Thunder: The statehood deal, yeah.

Pahdopony: Yes.

Little Thunder: You also participated in H2O[K] water show. I loved when I found out about that show. You know that's when water rights were really--


Pahdopony: Yes.

Little Thunder: --in the media as an issue between the tribes and the state. What was your piece for the show?

Pahdopony: I had a piece that had a Comanche name. The translation was, Our Land is Dry. It had to do with the early memory of looking at the dried up land and seeing the geometric pieces. I had the sandstone that I had for a period of time because I'm a found art artist now. I know that. I step up and claim that for myself. I'm always collecting things. I collect things on roads. People when they travel are looking ahead and looking around. I'm looking down because I'm looking for something that I can use in my art.

I had this stone and I decided to carve it into sections because some of it had 36:00already been done, and I decided to continue that design. I looked at a lot of different examples of that to come up with the images that I liked. I sandblasted all these little areas out. Then, because the theme was water and the conservation of water, I wanted to incorporate my name into this piece. It was Pahdopony is the Comanche pronunciation of Pahdopony, anglicized. Pahdopony, paa means water, and napuni or kapuni, cekapuni, "look at it," means see how deep the water is.

It comes from an historical little journey of my ancestor. I wanted to incorporate my name into it because it has everything to do with water and see how deep the water is. I spent a lot of time trying to figure out how could I do 37:00my name into this piece?

I came up with a mirror, and it would be in the shape of a little pond, and if the viewer looked at it and looked down into it, they'd see a reflection of themselves. Our people saw themselves for the first time in the reflection of water, paa. That was a good connection for me, so that was able to connect and also, some design. I think about the land and that you can find rusted things on the earth. I incorporated some modern design into it by using some metal pieces that I found.

Little Thunder: Yes, I thought I saw metal--

Pahdopony: Yes.

Little Thunder: Separating some of the cracks.

Pahdopony: Yes.

Little Thunder: It was a really powerful piece, even just from a photograph.

Pahdopony: Thank you.

Little Thunder: It was the particular combination that-- you can get blasé 38:00about mixed media, but it was a kind of shock to you. Just kind of--

Pahdopony: Yes.

Little Thunder: --grabbed you.

Pahdopony: Yes, and it's exactly that. Our land was dry. We were in a drought and we had been in a drought for a time. It was really a big concern, especially when there are political issues like fracking that can use some of our purest water to create oil and our addiction to oil and all of that.

That was a concern, so looking at that piece in a lot of different directions. It came together all at once. I spent a lot of time thinking about it and then, boom, I knew what I wanted to do. It came together quickly except for the sandblasting those sections--

Little Thunder: Right.

Pahdopony: --took some time.

Little Thunder: You've been honored by Comanche Nation College with the Dean Emeritus title. When did that happen and how did that impact you?


Pahdopony: I didn't know that I had that dean emeritus title.

Little Thunder: I read it online.

Pahdopony: Oh, my. Well--

Little Thunder: It might not be accurate, but you've taught there. Talk about your teaching experience.

Pahdopony: I did a presentation in Texas at Tarrant County Community College and it was on leadership. One of the things I said to them was, "I don't know if anybody ever sets out to be a leader, I'm not sure about that. I never set out to be a leader, but I am somebody who's willing to help."

Oftentimes, I found myself in leadership positions simply because I said I'll help. I found myself as a tribal administrator by being willing to help. I found myself as dean of academic affairs in the same way because I was faculty, but it 40:00was also about problem solving and making sure that everything was going in the right direction for the college and that we could be accredited one day. Building and working on the infrastructure, and teaching, and all those wonderful things, working with Native students. Pretty exciting. I'm so fortunate to have fallen into that.

I was asked to put in for that when it came open and I did. Oh boy, when I got the position, then there was really no time for anything else because it's a very responsible position. I retired from that position in 2013. I was home for six months and asked to come back as the interim president, which I did for 41:00seven months. I'm very honored by those positions. They're very, to me, a pinnacle of my whole career, to be able to do a responsible, exciting important job like that.

But it also meant that I wasn't able to do art, but I could do a lot of thinking, incubating ideas. I could put something together by thinking about it, and I've done that. Art has always has an important place no matter what I am doing, but I might not have a whole lot of time for it.

Little Thunder: You received a cultural award from Lawton in 1995, I think, which I guess was as an artist award.

Pahdopony: Yes, I think I was very active back then. I think I was doing a lot 42:00of art and having shows, and being involved in the Arts and Humanities, and serving on the museum boards. I was very involved.

Little Thunder: Actually Lawton, I don't know if you dealt with, I know they've got a couple of strong galleries, or at least one--

Pahdopony: Yes. The Leslie Powell Gallery is--

Little Thunder: --the Leslie Powell Gallery

Pahdopony: --and the Museum of the Great Plains, too, has had a number of shows, but the Leslie Powell Gallery is really a nice gallery. Some people say, "I didn't know this was in Lawton. It doesn't even seem like we're in Lawton." It's just so elegant and professional. I've had a show there with Brent Greenwood.

Little Thunder: I see. When was that?

Pahdopony: Then I had--I'll have to look at that.

Little Thunder: Four or five years ago?

Pahdopony: Yes, yes. When I walked into that show, I remember the first thing I 43:00saw was this painting of Brent Greenwood's and I remember, "Wow. It had memory." I couldn't stop thinking about. I thought about it. Brent liked a tipi that I had done and he came up to me, and I was thinking about the same thing, but he came up to me and said "Would you be interested in trading art for art?" "Oh my gosh, yes." I knew exactly the one I wanted. He made a comment about, "We're trading art for art, we're trading tipis for tipis." This is the tipi that I traded with him on.

Little Thunder: Was it a mixed media piece?

Pahdopony: It was a painting on a hide that was shaped like a tipi cover and it had an unusual shape. It was sponsored by the Arts Council of Oklahoma. Carol 44:00Whitney put the grant together for that show and invited a number of artists. There were some really powerful artists in that show. I remember we had months, almost a year to complete this piece. I remember looking at the list of artists, people that were just amazing. I thought, "How could I compete with those people?" I spent months just not doing anything. Then toward the end, the last few months, I thought, "I've got to get busy on this." Then when I thought I should do something that was Comanche, I thought I've got to do some documentation. I got to go to the museum and study and read. Then when I got over myself, I thought, "I'm Comanche for Pete's sakes. I should be able to come up with something Comanche." I completed it in a very short time.


Little Thunder: You had a solo show at the American Indian Community House, I also read, a few years ago.

Pahdopony: Yes. It was a show with Shane Goshorn. Also, Annette Arkeketa had a very important Ghost Dance play that she had written that was very important. I did some art that with along with the theme of NAGPRA [Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act]. I have one piece here that I can show you that I felt was very connected to that show. It had to do with Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act in 1990. It was a borrowed piece. I borrowed a story from the Cheyenne people. It was about a young woman. I took that story. 46:00That was part of the repatriation for me. It was symbolic that I, a Comanche, used a Cheyenne story to depict the story of first trade between the humans and the pack rat.

Little Thunder: Oh, yeah.

Pahdopony: That was my piece in that show, one of the pieces. That ended up being a very major thing because it had to be in a storage. It had to be frozen for any bugs in the gallery. It had some big--

Little Thunder: Because of the materials--

Pahdopony: Yes. Wood and the holes in the wood, infestation, and it led to a lot of--. Finally, what we did was for the opening I could show it. I couldn't show it for the rest of the exhibit.

Little Thunder: Oh my goodness.

Pahdopony: That was my most important piece of the show. It could only be in the opening.


Little Thunder: I actually know that story, too.

Pahdopony: Yes. Yes.

Little Thunder: Who ended up with that piece?

Pahdopony: I have it here, although, I gave it to Ava Hamilton because she is Cheyenne. I said, "I feel like it should belong to some Cheyenne person," and I said. "I'm going to give it to you." She has never been able to travel with it since she lives in Wyoming--no she lives in Colorado.

Little Thunder: You know, in hearing the stories, it's such a connective thread, story, between your different works, I was wondering if you could talk a little bit about the buffalo hide piece that you did for the Museum of the Great Plains?

Pahdopony: The buffalo hide piece that I did, I didn't do it for the Museum of the Great Plains, I did a buffalo hide. I had thought about this for a long 48:00time. I wanted to do a piece that would commemorate the Comanche history from my own perspective and also the perspective of the Comanche people themselves, children, elders, middle-age people, people that knew a lot about the history and were connected, and people who weren't so connected. I wanted to put a story together that would be contemporary. It would give a little bit about our history, from leaving the Shoshone Nation way back in the sixteen, 1700s, coming down the Great Plains, traveling all the way to Mexico. The killing of the 49:00horses in Texas. Our recent Texas history on up to modern times when our tribal economies turned toward gaming, bingo, and other sustainable economies for the Nation. It was really a story about our success in modern times. I had images like that. I asked people, "What do you think should be on this?" "Oh, you must do this or you must include this." So those stories I included. It came from the people.

I asked people please pray for me to come together with, to be able to do this in a good way. Say a prayer for me please that I can do a good job because what a responsibility. I took this on, but then it felt like a very rich, but very 50:00responsible thing to do, to depict our history.

Little Thunder: Definitely.

Pahdopony: Yes.

Little Thunder: I'd like to switch and talk about your more technical practices, philosophy. You kind of explained how neat it is that you can spend your time thinking basically--

Pahdopony: Yes.

Little Thunder: -- about the mixed media pieces, so I'm wondering how much time you spend-- Whether it's "I think of the concept then I find the materials?" Or is it sometimes the reverse?

Pahdopony: When I travel, when I'm anywhere at all, I'm looking down, so I'm finding materials all the time. I have a lot of materials that I have collected that are waiting for me to use them. An example of that is--


I'm always looking for materials wherever I go. I have a collection of things that are waiting for me. I know about those things, and I keep them in my mind that I have a number of things. I'll find bottle caps that have been mashed by the traffic and they look like little frames. (Laughter) I find things like that, rusty pieces of metal and different materials. Recently, I found a motor gasket on the way to Memphis, Texas. We stopped to let our dog have a little break, and I was walking along and I found this perfect little rusted frame and I asked my husband, "What is this?" He said, "It's a motor gasket frame." "Wow, it looks like a little antique frame."

I threw it in the back of the car and I knew I would use it somewhere. Then, when the rewriting history show came about, I knew that I wanted to have a 52:00formal portrait of my grandmother, my maternal grandmother, Ida Tahmahkera. I wanted to depict her in history, so I used that motor gasket frame.

The piece was just so exquisite; the little frame was on both sides. I had this terrible struggle deciding which side. One was rusted beautifully, and was green, and had a lot of color to it. The other was flat, but it looked more like a frame. Which do I use? It was so elegant and it was so appropriate for my grandmother's portrait. It looked like an ancient frame, very tiny ancient frame.

I added some color to a copy of my grandmother's portrait. I used acetate to represent the glass. I ended up putting it on Oklahoma sand- stone and also the 53:00clay. The connection of it was that the tiny shells that I added to the art piece Riding Home was the story of my grandmother. You think about riding home, the Comanche people were horse culture, so that even the name Re-Riding History is like you're actually riding a horse maybe.

Little Thunder: Right.

Pahdopony: Also, when you're a student in a boarding school, then they think about writing home. They think about being at home. "If I just had a horse to ride home," many of them thought, surely. I thought about my grandmother and her educational story and that was a connection. The shells had to do with, or the 54:00beads that I added to the art piece, had to do with her being a bead worker.

The stone that it was on was Oklahoma, which the Oklahoma red earth, and then the clay, the ever present clay, but those two things also had a connection to the Saint Augustine Castillo de San Marcos Fort which was stone and very cold and sterile to the prisoners who were housed there in a very foreign landscape. Those things, and that's what I'm talking about, the incubation. I'm thinking about all these layers of meaning. There is much more to it than just a rock with some beads and a portrait of an Indian woman. There is a lot of layers and 55:00meaning. That's the kind of art I like to do.

Little Thunder: You've talked a little bit about some of the kinds of research that you do. Is there anything we haven't touched on? A lot of it [is] talking to people, sometimes books, travel--

Pahdopony: I'm very interested in the Comanche history and all of that, the language, the writings that are already in existence. Many of them are so stereotypical because they've been created in another time. One of the goals that I have in my retirement is that I will be able to write the Comanche perspective to some of those same stories of Adobe Walls [Texas] and the battles 56:00there--our perspective of...

I've been able to do that in some PowerPoints, and also it has gotten into my art. The depiction of all that, it's all connected. I believe that's what I've learned from my early mentors who were Comanche. I remember George Smith Watchetaker telling me, "Nita, when you depict something, when you do something that's Comanche, make sure that you talk to the elders. Make sure. Do your research and make sure that it is correct." I remember him saying that to me.

Little Thunder: How do you sign your work?

Pahdopony: Pahdopony.

Little Thunder: Okay, and we will see it here in a bit.

Pahdopony: Yes.

Little Thunder: When you are thinking about something, your creative process, 57:00are you keeping track in a notebook of ideas or is it--

Pahdopony: I have a lot of different journals. I have a lot of different started art books and journals, particularly, when I'm incubating. I'm really a fan of the Wallas Paradigm which talks about preparation, that when you first get an idea for art, that you're doing everything to prepare for it. Sometimes these different terms overlap one another, but you're gathering everything, you're thinking about it, in my case, I'm thinking about it while I'm writing, doing research, or writing, or talking to people. That's the preparation for doing an art piece.

The incubation period is--I spend more time in incubation. I spend more time thinking about it, thinking about it. How am I going to do it? Then my 58:00materials, of all of that. What am I going to need? The materials, the story, the documentation, but then also the elimination and that's what, "ah-ha," some people call it, "I know how to do it."

I know that's a short period for me. I know how I'm going to do it. Once I get it, then that's it. It doesn't take long. The verification for me is pretty exciting because, what is it then? Is it that you got into a show, you were accepted into a show, a juried show? Was it that you sold it? Was it that one person admired it? Any of those things. Verification is very different for different pieces. That Wallas Paradigm, those four stages, for me in my later 59:00work, incubation is where I spend most of my time.

Little Thunder: Looking back over your career so far, what has been one of the low points?

Pahdopony: Low points? Oh my gosh. Decades ago when I had won--I think I won an award for one show, for one piece and I can't really remember what it was, but it was a collage piece. I entered it into a show at Philbrook [Indian Art Annual]. I don't know what it was. I can't remember. I'll have to look back and see if I can jog my memory. It was so long ago. I remember I was so confident in that piece, but it didn't make the show.

Little Thunder: It got rejected?

Pahdopony: Yes, and I thought how could it be? I remember I went through all these different stages, denial, grief, it can't be, then I even thought, "Maybe 60:00my work isn't that good." I remember it was a low point.

Little Thunder: Right.

Pahdopony: I think that's what artists do. You get impacted by maybe even what one person says. I've grown since then. That was so long ago and critique was really an important class to be able to withstand what other people say about your work, and make what they say constructive criticism of your work.

I'm very hard-nosed now. I really seek constructive criticism. I seek the opinion of others. "What do you think?" "It's a little weak in this area." That's okay to be able to do that, and especially being able to teach that and see that in students. It's okay that somebody--it might not even be right, but it's good to see that there are other perspectives. It's okay.


Little Thunder: How about one of the high points in your career so far?

Pahdopony: Oh my. I've had some really rich moments, but I remember one person saying to me, when I got into the show, in the Changing Hands show, One person said, "Nita, do you think this is the highlight of your life?" Oh, I was so disappointed. I hadn't even thought of that. I said, "I hope not." But it was a pretty big highlight to get into a show of that caliber.

Little Thunder: It was. It was, and I don't think we mentioned, you want to talk about who sponsored the show?

Pahdopony: The Changing Hands show was put together by [Ellen] Taubman and another individual. I have to look up the person's name. [Changing Hands: Art 62:00Without Reservation 2 by David R. McFadden and Ellen N. Taubman]

Little Thunder: I think it was the New York School of Design, is that right?

Pahdopony: It was in the Museum of Arts and Design.

Little Thunder: Museum of Arts and Design, right.

Pahdopony: And before then it had been the Arts and Crafts Museum. Does that sound very prestigious?

Little Thunder: Right.

Pahdopony: No, but they changed their name to the Museum of Arts and Design, which really sounded powerful. I remember getting an invitation to that show and being so, so thrilled. That's probably one of the highlights of my life was to be invited to that. Then, also being asked, "Do you know Ron Anderson, do you know how to reach him?" It's very hard to reach that person, but yes, he was a 63:00personal friend and I knew exactly where he lived. He was living off the grid for a while, but yes. "Do you know where we could find Cynthia Clay?" That was pretty thrilling to be asked about people that I knew and that we worked together and critiqued each other's work and we knew what we were doing.

Little Thunder: Is there anything we have forgotten to cover before we look at your artwork?

Pahdopony: I can't think of anything.

Little Thunder: Okay, we'll pause for a minute and take a look at these pieces. So this is, of course, the dress that you talked to us about. I don't know if you want to add a little bit to it, but it's wonderful.

Pahdopony: This is taa pune petaa kwasu, which is Comanche for the only daughter's dress. It's a very special dress that could be worn. The story came 64:00to me from a now deceased elder, Thomas Niedo, who was a very rich historian. Knew stories and he knew our language. He told me the story about that this dress could be worn by the only daughter. It was a special dress. Cowrie shells weren't in our environment, so it was trade item. It was very valuable at one time.

Little Thunder: Beautiful piece. How about this piece?

Pahdopony: This is a portrait. It's a monochromatic painting of my great-grandmother, or in Comanche, "my tsoo." Her name was Wehrare Parker Tahmahkera on my maternal side. She was the daughter of Quanah Parker. She had blue-grey eyes, but as you can see, she was very, very Comanche. The eyes came 65:00from the Cynthia Ann Parker captive history that we had.

I had a black and white photograph of her. I remembered how the Comanche women were very protective of their hair, and she always had her hair in a very fine hair net. It was braided, but this is how she dressed. It brings back some rich memories of when I was a child. I could see a lot of elders, Comanche women, dressed just like this. We no longer see them dressed like this anymore. I knew even at this time that it was a rich memory.

Little Thunder: That's a great story. Thank you for sharing that. Thank you so much for your time today.

Pahdopony: Yes. Thank you. Come on, let's see what we can grab to eat in here.

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