Oral history interview with Marlene Riding In Mameah

OOHRP, Oklahoma State University
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Little Thunder: This is Julie Pearson Little-Thunder. Today is Wednesday, October 28, 2015. I'm interviewing Marlene Riding in Mameah for the Oklahoma Native Artist Project at the Oklahoma State University Oral History Research Program. We are out in Marlene's home in Pawnee. Marlene, you are Pawnee, you're one of the first Native women in Oklahoma to make German silver jewelry. Your art has been worn by champion powwow dancers from all over. You also do finger weaving. You've shown at the Southern Plains Indian Museum and were the Honored One at the Red Earth Indian Arts Festival in 2007. Thank you for taking the time to talk with me. Where were you born and where did you grow up?

Mameah: I was born on the home place, which is located south of Yale, next to the Cimarron River, so I always say I was born on the Cimarron River.


Little Thunder: What did your mother and father do for a living?

Mameah: My father was a farmer and my mother was a housewife.

Little Thunder: Brothers or sisters?

Mameah: I had three brothers and two sisters.

Little Thunder: Where did you fall in the sequence? Where did you come in?

Mameah: I was the baby.

Little Thunder: How about your grandparents on either side of the family? What was your relationship with them?

Mameah: I didn't know my grandfather on my father's side, I didn't know my grandmother either, but I knew my great-grandmother on my father's side. On my 2:00mother's side, my grandmother and my grandfather was actually my step-grandfather, but I didn't know that until I was thirty years old. When he died, they told me he wasn't my grandfather and I didn't know that. They were the only ones that I knew growing up that I had--grandparents.

Little Thunder: Were you around the language a lot growing up?

Mameah: Yes, because my grandparents, they know how to talk Pawnee, but I wasn't around them enough. They lived up here and we lived down around Yale. I would only see them on the weekends because we would come up here every weekend. Visit 3:00one--stay with one family one weekend, the next we'd go to the other one, stay with them. But I was never around them enough to understand or know the language. My father and my mother used to use the language to keep secrets from us, so we just never did learn. They never taught us. We knew some words, "sit down," and "get up," and "behave." Mostly, "behave"--things like that.

Little Thunder: Right. Did you have any extended family members who were involved in the arts?

Mameah: I can't remember any. Do you remember any?


Donna: Do you claim Caesar?

Mameah: Oh.

Little Thunder: This is Donna speaking. That's okay.

Mameah: Julius Caesar, he was my father's nephew. He was a fantastic silversmith. He called it a metalsmith.

Little Thunder: Right, so did you see some of that work as a young girl?

Mameah: Oh yeah. He was always around and he was really friendly. He was always giving things away that he'd made. He was always giving my mother earrings, so she had some of this work.

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

Mameah: My first memory--I imagine it was out at Chilocco, when I went to school 5:00up there, because that's the only time I was around art that I could remember. Going in school--drawing pictures and all like that, but up there you got to see Indian art and so many things that I didn't know anything about, you know, other tribes. I was in arts and crafts and that's where I started. I started drawing. The teacher knew that I had the talent to draw. Our teacher was--what's her name? I can't think of her name now, but she was from out west. I don't think 6:00she was Navajo, she was something else, but she was a teacher up there and she did weaving on the boards. Not the loom, it was just a board. She taught me that. The rag rug weaving, we did those. She noticed I had an aptitude for that, so she started me on the loom.

I used to weave afghans and table cloths, napkins, and the school would sell them. They would have them there for sale for people that came in. That's where 7:00I learned to do weaving. And then when Mrs. Wapp came, she taught me to finger weave. That's where I got my start. She encouraged me to paint and I did. I think it was the dean, the president of Bacone College. He came up one year and he went through the arts and crafts department, and he noticed what I had been doing on my artwork, so he got my name and address from Mrs. Wapp. She told me that he was real interested in me going to school down there. They wrote me a 8:00letter, so I showed it to my father, and he always encouraged my artwork. He was the one that was always behind me. That's why he sent me to Bacone.

Little Thunder: Now when did you go to Chilocco and how old were you when you went to Chilocco?

Mameah: I went to Chilocco I think it was in '47 to '49. Then I went to Bacone for one year. Then I started again, but then I quit.

Little Thunder: What was it like at Bacone when you got to that program?

Mameah: That's why I went, was for the Indian art. Dick West was the teacher. I was just fascinated by all the Indian art. When I got there--in the class he 9:00made us all sit around and told us to draw something for him. I drew a war dancer. He walked around, he looked at everybody and he pointed to me and he said, "You, upstairs." So I went upstairs and then he came up and he showed me how to transfer--he wanted me to do what I was doing and to correct all the mistakes in it. Showed me how to correct the mistakes and to transfer it on to paper. So that was the start.

Little Thunder: And I as I understand, he sent you upstairs because you were doing Indian art and he saw the talent. The other students were just doing some regular, some kind of regular--regular assignments.

Mameah: Yeah, because I was mostly Indian, everything was Indian to me.

Little Thunder: I think I also read that you wanted to take jewelry making when 10:00you got to Bacone.

Mameah: I did. When I found out they had that program, I wanted to take it, but they wouldn't let me because they didn't let women do it.

Little Thunder: Do you remember who was teaching the jewelry making class?

Mameah: Dick West. But he said it wasn't part of the program and that the school didn't want women taking that course, so I didn't get to take it. But I fooled him. (Laughter)

Little Thunder: Yes, you did. Anyway, you got encouragement from him for painting I guess, so is that what you continued to do at Bacone?

Mameah: Yes. That was what I did. I don't know, he just really took an interest in me because he thought I had the talent to do it. Acee Blue Eagle lived in 11:00Muskogee, and he would come out to the school. When he heard I was Pawnee--well, he knew my parents. He had met them and then he'd heard that a Pawnee was going to school out there, so he came out. First thing he told me, "I know your parents." Anyway, he helped me, both of them. Dick West took art from Acee Blue Eagle. That was his teacher. It's kind of funny. I learned from both of them. Acee was always bringing books out for me to read, to look at, and to copy. He would make me draw things that was in the books that pertained to Pawnee. That 12:00way he said I'd have a record of everything. Then I'd have to write down everything. He was a big help to me. Then they wanted me to enter that art contest at Philbrook that year. Well, I didn't know what to paint, so Acee brought a book out and it was about Pawnees. He said, "Read this book and take a picture out of this book. Paint it, draw it." I didn't know what I was doing, so I latched onto this Morning Star ceremony that they had in there. I had one little part there that I drew. It was actually just a dance. I finished it.

They're tell me how to paint any everything, and mixing paint. How to use 13:00lines--they didn't shade at all. It was flat, but there was a way you put shade, using different colors, blending them. They taught me that. They entered it into Philbrook and it won First Place in the Plains Division. I was the youngest one to ever win there in all of the divisions. I think I was seventeen--I was sixteen when I painted it. I was seventeen when I entered it because my birthday was in March. I think it's in April was when that contest was. Anyway, after I won I told my father about it and he wanted to know what I painted. I told him 14:00and he got mad. He told me that that Morning Star ceremony was not part of the Pawnee, it was Skidi. He said, "Don't you ever paint anything about the Morning Star ceremony again. "If you want to know about Pawnees," he said, "You talk to me about it and I'll tell you. You want to know our ceremonies? The ones past and dances, you just tell me and I'll tell you, I'll show you." So I did after that. This painting over here is one that he wanted me to draw, The Doctor Dance. I did that in two weeks. I should have taken a lot longer than that, but 15:00I was in a hurry, so it's not actually up to my standards. I mean it looks--

Little Thunder: It's beautiful, though. A lot of figures in there.

Mameah: Yeah, Indian art in itself was not pretty. I mean, the faces were ferocious. They weren't good looking people that they painted. I don't know, the figures were a little different than what you would do nowadays. What I do now is a whole lot different, but Indian art was just flat. So you had to go with what you had, what you could. This one, I entered it at Philbrook. I didn't win 16:00anything, but they wanted it to go on a tour. It was gone for a year or two and I'd forgotten all about it. Then one day they delivered it to the house. I didn't know what it was until I opened it.

Little Thunder: You were back in Pawnee at that point?

Mameah: No, I was living in Skiatook [Oklahoma].

Little Thunder: You were at Skiatook, okay.

Mameah: I was married and living in Skiatook when I did this. I just went home so that he would be there to tell me what to do and to okay it.

Little Thunder: Did you meet your husband at Bacone?

Mameah: No.

Little Thunder: Okay, how did you get from Bacone to Skiatook?

Mameah: I met my husband. Got married--they lived in Skiatook so I went to Skiatook.


Little Thunder: Were you thinking at that point you wanted to continue painting?

Mameah: I wanted to, but then again, I didn't. I mean, I didn't have much interest in painting at that time. He was trying to farm. He actually was a city--grew up in the city. Never had farmed or anything. He was a veteran, and his mother had some land out there that he wanted that had house. He wanted to live there and try to farm. Being a farm girl, it was right down my alley. So I helped him. My dad gave us a tractor. We lived there until his father died. When 18:00his father died, we moved into town to take care of his mother, to stay with her. I didn't do any artwork. I just did little pieces. When people found out that I could draw, they'd want me to do a painting of something for a certain thing, so I would do that. Then I got into ceramics and then I did the little lamps of Indians, you know? It was a decanter, really, and it was real goofy-looking decanter. I kind of shaved it off, took things off that I didn't like, and painted them and made lamps out of them. I used to sell those. Then somebody wanted me to start painting plates just to hang on walls, so I did 19:00plates with a straight dancer and a buckskin dress, they were in pairs. That was about all the artwork that I did.

Little Thunder: Did you sell those to individuals or did you sell to the store over there?

Mameah: No, I sold them to people who ordered them. They would call me or come by the house and want me to do different things. Draw something for them, or like that painting over there that went on the cover of a powwow book. I had another one out, but I never did get that back. Another powwow book.

Little Thunder: How did you get involved with Supernaw's?

Mameah: I met my husband at a stomp dance and that was it. That was the beginning.


Little Thunder: (Laughter) You were captured. Then you went to work for the Supernaw Indian Store, right?

Mameah: It was after my husband died.

Little Thunder: Okay.

Mameah: Kugee wanted--actually hired me to draw patterns, so that he could make the object.

Little Thunder: For jewelry?

Mameah: Yes.

Little Thunder: Okay, for his jewelry.

Mameah: I would draw like the earrings, then he would cut them out and make them. I didn't like that too well, but I started doing it myself and he found out that I could work with metal.

Little Thunder: You were watching. Is that how you learned? From watching him work?

Mameah: Yes, and then after I started working--well, he showed me how to use 21:00different stamps or tools that you use. Just basic information on how to do metalwork. After I learned that, I just took off from there. Like these hair ties, here it's actually based on a beaded hair tie. Pam Chibitty had a lot of beads missing out of her hair tie, so she wanted me to replace the beads because [Supernaw's] did a lot of beadwork, too. When I was replacing the beads I thought, "Why can't I make a hair tie out of these?" So that's how that started.

Little Thunder: Okay.

Mameah: I just made my own patterns. I worked there four years for him and then 22:00I met my second husband. He was actually my cousin's nephew by marriage. She was married to his uncle. When I married him that made her--no, that made me her aunt--no, her my aunt. She was my aunt. That's how it was, and we were cousins. That was so crazy. But after I married Ace, well, he was disabled. He had rheumatoid arthritis real bad. And I continued--by that time, I was working on my own.

Little Thunder: Jewelry.

Mameah: He wanted to help me and he tried, but he couldn't cut out metal, or he 23:00just didn't have it. Some people can do it, some can't, but he could finish. He did the polishing and all that to finish whatever I made, and that really helped me. I didn't have to do all the hard work.

Little Thunder: It's real time-consuming, isn't it?

Mameah: Yeah.

Little Thunder: Were you selling mainly at powwows at that point?

Mameah: Yeah, and then we were invited to different--what are they? What do you call them? Conferences? And those big gatherings like that. Then to tap powwows, 24:00so we would travel to sell. We traveled all over the United States doing that, and that was a lot of fun.

Little Thunder: Where was the most--what was one of your most exciting travel adventures? Maybe out-of-state travel?

Mameah: Gosh, I can't remember.

Little Thunder: Or just a place that you enjoyed going to that was out of state?

Mameah: Going to Connecticut and seeing that river. I can't remember the name of it. To me, that was the biggest river I'd ever seen and we crossed it going into White Plains, New York. We were both afraid to go into New York City, you know, 25:00all the traffic and everything. So we bypassed that and went around to White Plains, then cut across to go to Connecticut. I think that was the best trip because I'd never been up there and I'd always read about different things. That river, to me, was the most exciting. It was so big compared to the rivers that I'd seen--and being born on a river--next to the river.

Little Thunder: So in terms of when you were first starting to show your work, you started off right away with German silver. Is that right?

Mameah: Yes.

Little Thunder: Do you want to explain the difference between German silver and some of the other metals? Regular silver?

Mameah: The difference? German silver is actually a nickel-silver. I don't know 26:00why they call it German silver outside of--when they first started bringing it over, it came from Germany. They brought things that were made for uniforms, the buttons, and gorgets, and all of those. It fascinated the Indians and they wanted it. So they got to trading. They found out--the white people found out that the Indians wanted that, that was a good trade product. They would take all the silver that they got from England and carry it with them and the Indians 27:00would trade for it. It worked its way down to the Plains. When they found out that they could get the German silver, then they started making it. Sterling, it was too expensive, and it's too fine. It wouldn't last very long. Where this German silver would last forever when you wear it. But with sterling, it wears. It'll wear out.

Little Thunder: You explained that some of the Navajo jewelers that you would show around had an attitude toward German silver.

Mameah: Oh, they didn't like German silver. They would say things about-- laugh about German silver. They'll come by our table and look at it and make a face, 28:00say something about it. Like it was degrading. I didn't like it. Because they did that, I avoided them. That's why I never went to the Indian Market was because the way that they had treated the German silver and talked about it. I just figured they didn't want it there, so I never tried to go and I was invited to go there. I just wouldn't do it because of that. The one thing--I'm a 29:00traditionalist. I stuck with it because I'm a Plains tribe and Southern Plains is all I do. I think sterling and turquoise should be--that belongs to them. That's their type of work. I respect it and I always wish that they could respect the Plains. Little do they know that they took a lot of our Plains' patterns because the conchos actually came from the Plains and different other articles. They were Plains--what we wore--and they would copy them. I think 30:00they're well known for copying, anyway.

Little Thunder: You mentioned that you mostly sold to dancers. I was wondering--it's a different kind of satisfaction maybe than selling to people who aren't dancers. Can you talk about that a bit?

Mameah: It didn't matter. If you wanted to wear what I made, that was good. I've had people come by and say that they inherited stuff and they were very proud of it. Whoever wanted to buy what I made, it was good, I was glad. But I actually made objects for dancers. A lot of times, these little ones would come up, and 31:00they would be beginning dancing and I knew their parents didn't have a lot of money to dress them, so I would give them little things to help them along. And they would be real happy, these little kids. Just a pair of earrings, something like that, or armbands. That's what I made and to me it was usable. I see it now, to this day. I see people wearing them, the articles that I made. They're still using them. Just like Julius Caesar's work. Anybody that has his work should be very proud of it because he made it and it's been handed down all 32:00these years. That's what my husband used to say. He said, "This is going to last forever. Long after you're gone, your jewelry's going to be around, it's going to be used and that's good."

Little Thunder: What do you think distinguished your work from maybe other people that made things in German silver? What made your work a little bit different, your German silver work, from maybe another worker that was working in German silver?

Mameah: What made it different? There's one thing, I made my own patterns. I never copied because I could draw and make my own patterns. I've seen a lot of 33:00my patterns being used by other people.

Little Thunder: (Laughter) After you came up with them.

Mameah: But that's to be expected.

Little Thunder: Did you enter any competitions with your jewelry?

Mameah: Yes.

Little Thunder: What's an important award that you got early on? One that you're proud of?

Mameah: Probably Red Earth. I've won there several times. Then the Honored One [at Red Earth]. That was the biggest one.

Little Thunder: That is really special. What was that like when you found out about that?

Mameah: When they called me, they asked me if I was sitting down (Laughter). I was working and I told them, "Yes, I'm sitting down." She said, "You're picked 34:00to be the Honored One." It didn't quite--I thought she was kidding. I thought somebody was joking. I just laughed. She said, "No, no, it's real. You really are." I said, "You're kidding?" "No." Then it dawned on me, it really was and I just couldn't believe it. Me? (Laughs) I knew I was old enough--not like [your husband], Merlin [Little Thunder]. But yeah, it was quite an honor to know that they did pick me, to know that they enjoyed my artwork that much.

Little Thunder: And you rode in the parade right? Were you in the parade?


Mameah: No, I was on a walker then and I couldn't get around too good. Then it started raining, so I got out of it. (Laughter)

Little Thunder: How did you figure out how to price your work?

Mameah: Actually, my work was underpriced according to everybody. They said I was cheap because they would say, "Oh, so-and-so's got this and they're that much higher." I never tried to put a big price on anything because I was selling to the Indians, and I knew they didn't have a whole lot of money. I tried to keep it down to where people could afford it.


Little Thunder: What was one of your favorite things to make?

Mameah: Favorite thing? I don't know that I--

Little Thunder: Or maybe a difficult thing to make?

Mameah: Okay, the difficult one is what I was thinking. The gorgets, they were kind of fascinating to make. They were big and you had to figure out all your stamping, how to get it in, what pattern, how you could get your pattern worked in. It was kind of mindboggling at times, but I managed.

Little Thunder: They really show.

Mameah: Yeah, and what is his name? He's a collector. I always called him Dr. 37:00Bill. Bill Wiggins?

Little Thunder: Bill Wiggins, is it? Bill Wiggins?

Mameah: Yeah, he's got this scrapbook full of everything he's collected through the years. He's got like four full pages of my artwork in there of things that he's bought from me. I was surprised when he showed it to me that he had that many things. I knew he was collecting, but I didn't know he was collecting that much. I know as soon as he come in, he'd come to the table and pick out the best thing I had, the newest thing, and he'd buy it.

Little Thunder: I was going to ask you, what were some of the pieces that you won on? Was a gorget one of them?

Mameah: One was a cross. It was a large cross to be worn by a man dancer. It was 38:00cutout, a lot of cutout. On the four sides, there was cutout water birds were cut out on each end. I forgot what was in the middle, but that one was, I think, to me, the best thing I made.

Little Thunder: That was at Red Earth, wasn't it?

Mameah: Yes.

Little Thunder: I think I remember that piece. Beautiful. You had a show at Southern Plains Indian Museum as well. Do you remember the year approximately?

Mameah: Two thousand and 2001.

Little Thunder: What was that like?


Mameah: Actually it was--I wanted to go, but my husband was in the hospital at that time. I was staying up to Oklahoma City with him and I didn't want to go, but he talked me into going. He said, "You have to go, you have to be there." So I went reluctantly. It was good, but I was so worried about him that I couldn't enjoy it, really. I wanted him there with me. But I was so glad when my niece and her mother showed up. Remember that?


Donna: At Red Earth?

Mameah: No, at Southern Plains, Anadarko.

Donna: Yeah, I remember that.

Mameah: Then we all went to the hospital, afterwards. They stopped by to see him. Friends of mine had wired flowers. So they boxed them up and we took them up there to him. But it was a good show. A lot of people came, a lot of people bought. They said that that was the most productive show they've had.

Little Thunder: Is that right? The best sales show? Yes, he sounds like he was such a good supporter of your work.

Mameah: Yeah.

Little Thunder: Was he the sales person at the booth, too?

Mameah: He was. I used to say I was production and he was sales, but you had to know him to know that he could sell. I seen a woman, she was standing way back, 41:00all hunched up, just real shy. He kept telling her, "Come to the table and look at what we've got." He kept talking to her and finally she came to the table. I mean he talked to her and talked to her, and it just seemed like she blossomed. She started laughing, she straightened up. I could see the difference just with him talking to her like he did.

Little Thunder: So you saw how that young woman just blossomed?

Mameah: Yes, it was really something to see. That's the kind of person he was. He'd make friends with anybody, talk to anybody. I don't know, everybody liked 42:00him. He was just a person like that. You couldn't dislike him.

Little Thunder: How would you describe some of the changes at the Red Earth Indian Arts Festival over the years?

Mameah: How the changes were at Red Earth during the years? It started falling off. The dancers, people quit coming because you had to pay to get in and all they did was contests. They couldn't dance, so the people didn't come. It was just people that wanted to buy. I don't know, that cut the parade down. It 43:00wasn't as good as it used to be. They didn't have as good of advertising. It wasn't advertised like it had been. Things just start changing. People start dropping out. You might say some of the ones that could make a good show somewhere else. They wouldn't come back to Red Earth, but all us locals were always there.

Little Thunder: How about just in general on the Native art scene, what were some of the changes from the '70s through the '80s? Because you were already selling in the '70s and traveling quite a bit.

Mameah: Seventies to the '80s? Shoot, that was some of the good years.


Little Thunder: There probably weren't a lot people doing your work.

Mameah: Oh, you mean my type of work? Well, there was Bruce [Caesar]. I think we were the only two that did German silver. The rest were all sterling and turquoise. It was just loaded with people from Arizona and New Mexico. They had all that turquoise and all that stuff.

Little Thunder: They were coming out this way and hitting a lot of the shows.

Mameah: More and more.

Little Thunder: Right. How about changes in the Native art scene from the '80s to the '90s? Just the whole art scene in general?

Mameah: It was basically like the others, except it did start falling off. I 45:00don't know. There was so many good years, I can't place the actual dates. As far as I was concerned, they were good years, but there was--you could tell a difference in the people. There wasn't as big of crowds as there used to be. Like I said, the dance part kept falling off.

Little Thunder: And that was a lot of your audience.

Mameah: Yeah.

Little Thunder: Some of your audience there.

Mameah: But we didn't suffer for it because we sold just as much. It was funny because this woman came by and she looked at everything, and she said, "Is this 46:00sterling?" "No, it's German silver or nickel-silver." "Oh." So she put it down and wandered off. Then before the show was over she came back and she bought three, four articles. She said, "They're selling them like this over there, they're not as good," she said, "but they want a big price for them." I said, "Well, that's sterling, you pay more." She said, "I don't care, yours is better looking," she said. "I'll buy this. It's cheaper." So we sold.

Little Thunder: (Laughs) You helped start a Pawnee Artists Association?

Mameah: Yeah, we had so many Pawnee artists, that there was a banker and Brummett Echohawk, who was an outstanding artist and Cecil Stern, he's Pawnee, 47:00business man, and Everett Berry was a banker. They were all friends. They're the ones that were backing it. They got it started. It was one of them's idea and they just run with it. They had a meeting and invited everybody to go out, to come out. We went out to it, a lot of us went to it. That's how it started. Then we'd have meetings out at the Roundhouse and several times the Roundhouse was closed, so we'd have the meetings outside the Roundhouse. But then we formed and people started joining. The purpose of the Pawnee Arts was to get all artists and we were going to teach the younger ones. We weren't getting paid for it or 48:00anything. We all had certain things we were going to teach. Brummett came in and he taught charcoal and he was going to teach acting, give acting lessons. I don't think anybody got into oils. Then I was down for jewelry making and yarn work. Somebody else made ribbon work, shawls, just different things that they made that they could teach the younger ones or anyone that wanted to learn. That's how the Pawnee Arts formed. We did really good, it's surprising, but we 49:00had good backers.

Little Thunder: So you had several workshops. Did you do a metal workshop? Did you do a workshop in jewelry making? Did you give one through the Pawnee Artists Association? Did you do the workshop in jewelry that you had talked about?

Mameah: Oh yeah.

Little Thunder: Was that your first workshop that you'd ever done?

Mameah: Yeah.

Little Thunder: How did it go?

Mameah: It went good. What did you learn? You learned moccasin making, wasn't it?

Donna: Yeah, we did some moccasin making and ribbon work. I think Buddy Lone 50:00Chief, didn't he teach something, too? Drawing?

Mameah: Yeah, he did sketching.

Donna: Drawing, you know Buddy--Charles?

Little Thunder: Yes.

Donna: I knew you did if you were from Tulsa. Oh, this is Donna. (Laughter)

Little Thunder: Did you have a mixture of adults and younger people in your class?

Mameah: Yes, anybody. Anyone that wanted to learn.

Little Thunder: That's wonderful.

Mameah: We had a program from--art association of Oklahoma City--what was the name of that?

Donna: Oklahoma Arts Council?

Mameah: Yeah, and they had this grant and we applied for it and it went through. It concerned a master artist and they would teach one person. So I was a master artist and we had Willy Beard was the one that I was to teach. I mean he picked 51:00it up in nothing flat. He was really good. It didn't take long, but he was like that. He was really gifted, but he was an alcoholic, so you couldn't depend on him. But all during the time that he was doing this, he was steady because he was interested in it.

Little Thunder: I remember that grant.

Mameah: He did, he did everything that he was supposed to do. When it was over, he could do real good work. He had a talent. We did that, but that was the only time--the Pawnee Arts just kind of--after that, I quit. I was the president for 52:00about three terms--he was president then last time, then he just got off and didn't come back. So I had to take over because I was vice. I stayed with it that year, but that was the last year. The next year, I didn't want to have that responsibility. Then the woman that got in there, she was brainless as far as artwork, so I quit the organization because of her.

Little Thunder: Is it still around today?

Mameah: No.

Little Thunder: Okay.

Mameah: It lasted about two or three years later and then it just faded away.

Little Thunder: Right. Now you have taught--is it finger-weaving? Is that what you taught most recently? Or weaving a couple years ago?

Mameah: No, I taught that with a class--

Little Thunder: That was at the Pawnee Artists--


Mameah: --with the Pawnee Arts and I've been trying to teach my nieces, but they haven't caught on yet.

Donna: We've got to try again here. Mine was way too loose. (Laughter)

Little Thunder: Let's talk about your technique just a little bit more. When you order your German silver to work with, how does it come? What form does it come in? Sheets?

Mameah: You can order up to thirty-six inches by twelve, I just have them cut it into twelve by twelves. I can handle it better.

Little Thunder: They're sheets of twelve by twelve?

Mameah: Unless it was armbands and I would specify the length and the width. They would cut it that way I didn't have to saw it.

Little Thunder: Can you take us through the process? Of, let's say making an armband.


Mameah: Like I just said, I had the iron bands cut because I didn't want to use a saw.

Little Thunder: Oh, you had the width and the length cut already. Okay.

Mameah: Because it's kind of hard to saw.

Little Thunder: So take us through some earrings, maybe. Making a pair of earrings, just talking us through how you would make a pair of earrings.

Mameah: First, draw your pattern and transfer it onto the metal. I used to scratch it in because with a carving or anything else it would smear and you'd lose your pattern. After I transferred the pattern, I would scratch it on, then saw it with a jeweler's saw, and cut it out. Then you file it, the rough edges, get it straight, bevel it, and then you would stamp it. After you stamped it, if 55:00you want it curved, you would curve it. You'd put it on a round piece of metal and pound it to where it would curve. Otherwise, you could lay it flat like an earring. Oh, you would hammer it. Now I used to hammer the back of mine, a lot of them didn't, but I would hammer mine because when I stamped, I stamped deep. It wasn't just on the surface. I was heavy-handed, I guess. Then I would turn it over and hammer it on the back. A lot of them didn't like that because they said it marred the surface. After you buff it, it takes any marks out or anything, it 56:00takes the scratches out. Then you buff it and that's it.

Little Thunder: Did you ever use stones in combination? What did you like in terms of stone?

Mameah: It would be black onyx. I worked mostly in black onyx.

Little Thunder: Yeah, that looks good with the--we'll look at a piece here. (Laughter)

Mameah: Or red--what is it? Carmelite? [Carnelian?] I forgot the name of the stones now, it's been so long. But it'd would be a red stone, it wouldn't be onyx. I mean it wouldn't be--now I forgot the name of that. What's that, the red one?

Donna: Oh, coral?

Mameah: It wouldn't be coral, it would be more of a stone, not from the Southwest.


Little Thunder: What is your creative process from the time you get an idea for a piece of jewelry?

Mameah: How long would it take?

Little Thunder: How does it work? Do you get an idea and then draw it in a notebook? What is your creative process?

Mameah: Yeah, I would draw it in a notebook. I've got notebooks around here with all patterns drawn out. I would be drawing up here late at night, if I was watching TV and then I'd go back there and transfer it, get it all straightened out the way I wanted it. Then I would work on it. So it was always just hit and miss.


Little Thunder: Did you like to work better at night?

Mameah: Yes, I would work until like two or three o'clock in the morning. My husband would let me sleep in and he'd buff in the mornings. I wouldn't even hear him. I'd be sound asleep. He'd take whatever I'd made and he'd buff it, finish it all up so that all it needed was to be carded. We worked good together like that and we were always ready for another show. We went to one--we had to go once a month because we'd sell out and then we'd have to restock. It would take us the rest of the month to do that until the next show.

Little Thunder: How many pieces would you try to have, typically?


Mameah: Gosh, I don't know. Like about six sets of those long earrings--

Little Thunder: Wow.

Mameah: --and six hands and broaches--about three pair of them. Couple of armbands, roach spreaders. Just a variety of everything, but the earrings is what we do the most of and we painted a lot of circles like she's got. Do you have the circles on?

Donna: Yeah.

Little Thunder: Oh great.

Mameah: They were different sizes, and they were long. She had some of the longer ones there.

Donna: Oh the--I showed her these. These? Or the other ones?

Mameah: Circles.

Donna: They're in my bag.

Little Thunder: We'll look at those in a minute, we'll pause.


Mameah: I sold a lot of those. They were more inexpensive than the Water Birds. Those were more expensive because they were harder to make. There were more pieces to them.

Little Thunder: In terms of designs, did you sometimes do specifically Pawnee designs? I know you sometimes--

Mameah: All the designs were Pawnee designs because I made them. They were my creation. They weren't traditional because I don't know of any specific designs or patterns that they had. I've seen earrings that were made by men, but they were pretty plain and they were small, about two pieces. Some had fringes on 61:00them, and that's the one thing I couldn't do, was fringes. I couldn't cut them that small. So I had to give up fringes. Took too long. All the patterns I made were just a lot of birds, and circles, and sometimes the moon with a water bird. I did a lot of peyote work. Sunbursts, I did a lot of those. And the large sunbursts with the water bird hanging. Just different ways of doing things.

Little Thunder: Combining different--yeah.

Mameah: Yeah, anything that come to mind and it always ended up good. It always 62:00turned out good. To me, when I think about something, "I wonder how this would be?" I'd have pieces laying back there and I'd just start fooling around with them and I'd make a pattern. Something would come up. A lot of times that was how I got my patterns.

Little Thunder: Looking back over your career, what was kind of a fork-in-the-road moment when you decided to go this one way as opposed to--for example, keeping on painting or--Mameah: Like when I was doing and decided to do something else?

Little Thunder: Yeah, when you really took this path.


Mameah: It was when I was working for Kugee. I worked for Kugee for four years and I wasn't getting any credit. I wanted to have my own stamp on the back, I wanted RI on there [Riding in]. I asked him why not and he said, "Well, Supernaw's on there." I said, "That's not what I want. I want RI, my stamp." "We can't do that." They left it Supernaw, they wouldn't change it. I really didn't like that. So there was a rift starting and he was getting tired of my work, I guess. And vice versa. Anyway, that's when I met Ace. We were going to get 64:00married, and I was ready to quit. One day he came in there and he just told me he was going to terminate me. I was--"Okay." Because we weren't working too good together. But I noticed when I went in that day--I knew this was coming. When I went in that day I had--I used to keep all my patterns. He had a copier, a big copier. Whenever I made them, I'd go in there and I'd go in there and copy it, so I'd have different patterns and I could draw from that if I wanted to make something like it I could look at that and do it. That's the reason why I copied those. The night before, I don't know why I did it, but I took all my good 65:00patterns, I took them home with me and I don't know why. That next morning was when he said I was terminated. He had to let me go, things weren't working out--He had a store in Tulsa, and he had one in Skiatook, and one in Anadarko, and he had to close one. So he was going to close the one in Tulsa. Anyway, I noticed that morning all my patterns were gone. All the folders were gone. I knew right then, something's going to happen today, so he told me that, which is okay because I wanted to quit anyway. We ended good, friends, former nephew-in-law.

Little Thunder: But that's when you launched into your own work full-time.


Mameah: Yeah, that's when Ace and I got married. I had been working at home doing little things, but that's what got him mad because he found out I was working. He thought I was doing it during his hours and I was doing it at home. I had my own tools because I bought them from him at the store. I bought what little tools that I needed, which wasn't very much. I was just making earrings and I was making those hair ties. Anyway, I got married, so that's the way it started, making the jewelry.

Little Thunder: What would you say has been one of the high points in your career?


Mameah: The high points? I guess when I won out to Philbrook was one of them. That painting there, it went on tour. You know I was I telling you? Then it took Grand Prize and what was the other--First Place and Grand Prize at Anadarko one year. Somewhere else it took an award, and I can't remember where. So it's been around.


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

Mameah: It was when my husband died, when Ace died because I just quit everything then. I didn't want to do anything. I can't remember high points.

Donna: The [Red Earth] Honored One. How about Southern Plains when they featured you? You weren't feeling--

Mameah: At first, when they were going to show my work, yeah, but when it came time, it just wasn't there.

Little Thunder: Is there anything else you would like to talk about before we look at some of your work?

Mameah: No, I can't --

Little Thunder: You made a lot of good friends on the circuit, I think. You've probably made a lot of friends, artist friends, on the circuit.

Mameah: Oh yes, oh and we traveled all over and we met a lot of people. Ace made a slew of friends. (Laughter) Yeah, I really enjoyed that, going around. Then, I don't know, it's kind of sad in a way because every year you'd go back somebody 69:00would be gone. They had died during the year. You missed them. I really don't know how many is left because I'm eighty-two now, so I don't know how many is lasted.

Little Thunder: I know you're hoping to get back in your studio soon.

Mameah: I hope so, soon as I can get back there. We have a great plan--I mean, Donna has great plans. (Laughter).

Donna: I do. I want to go to Cherokee Arts Festival.

Little Thunder: Do the Cherokee Art Festival again.

Donna: Yeah, for another one.

Little Thunder: All right, we're going to pause a minute and look at some of your work.

Okay, so we're looking at your painting, The Doctor Dance, that you won Grand Award on at Anadarko Indian Fair. Is there anything else you'd like to tell us 70:00about it?

Mameah: It's a--

Little Thunder: It's beautiful and complex.

Mameah: It's an old Pawnee ritual, ceremony, called The Doctor Dance. They had different dancers, different doctors, and they took their medicine from animals, so they would dance like this animal, whichever one that they were doctors of. Then the animals helped them. The ones in the painting are the white horse and the black horse. The ones in the background are the ones that's going to perform. They'll sing their songs and the one in the middle is the blanket, 71:00that's the altar part. The people, they sit in the back. The women sit in the back, the men sit in the front. That's just kind of a childish version of what a mud lodge would look like to sit inside. Because actually they're bigger than that, this is just kind of a half. You have the fireplace in the center.

Little Thunder: Really neat.

Mameah: It's really fascinating how they're constructed. Because this goes back, mud lodges, back years and years. They had to make this all themselves and how they figured it all out and what they did, but they made them. I guess you can see now where they're washed away through the years. There was two down here, going to Cushing, on the side of the road. Dad used to show me, and you could see the ground. He'd say those were mud lodges. There was two of them. Now, it's washed away more and you can't hardly see them now.

Little Thunder: Okay, go on. Marlene, you want to tell us more about this painting?

Mameah: It was painted for the cover of a Quapaw powwow book. I forgot which year. It's just a two-step. It's a flat, two-dimensional, or that's the 72:00traditional Indian artwork, which they don't do anymore.

[A granddaughter joins the group.]

Little Thunder: Okay, and these were the hair ties you were telling us about, initially inspired when you were asked to repair some beaded hair ties. They're just beautiful. You can tell they just hang beautifully, must hang beautifully. And these belong to your niece, Donna? I'm getting the pattern.

Mameah: Does [your mom] have a pair and Emma?

Donna: Yes.

Little Thunder: That almost looks a little floral.

Mameah: See what you missed out on by not dancing?


GranddaughterI sure did, I didn't let my hair grow. I could have pretended, though.

Little Thunder: So now we're looking at one of Marlene's necklaces. Water bird design, beautiful. Stone in there. Any special memories associated with this, Donna?

Donna: I think this is one of the Christmas presents I got to pick out.

Little Thunder: Wow.

Donna: Is that where that one was?

Mameah: Probably.

Donna: If I was good during the year, I'd get to pick out a gift and I'd get to pick out my own gift. She'd always ask me every year, she does ask me what I want for Christmas, and usually it's some of her work. I've been trying to save all of it. I don't have all of it, but I'd like to have at least one of everything she makes. That's why she's got to get back in there.

Mameah: You got most of it.

Donna: I got most--yeah.

Mameah: One of each.

Little Thunder: Almost one of each. That's beautiful.

Mameah: But she doesn't have her daughter's half.


Donna: Yeah, which is a sore spot. (Laughter)

Mameah: I just said I use this pattern quite a bit, the Water Bird. When I got to draw a design, I can draw the design and put it on top of the other one and it's exactly the same. Not only the Water Bird, but different patterns that I've done for so long all these years. They're just automatic.

Little Thunder: Your hands remember, exactly.

Mameah: Friend of mine wanted a pair of earrings, hand earrings for his wife. So he ordered them and I told him I've never made hand earrings. I thought it was kind of funny. He said, "No, just make them." "Okay." I said, "You want them up or down?" He said, "Up." I made him little earrings, sent them to him, and then someone had seen them while I was making them and they wanted a pair. So I made another pair, and it just caught on.

Little Thunder: Just caught on, yeah.

Mameah: Then I started making the bigger hands, and then that really caught on. A lot of the Osages wanted those. The women wear three hands and some of them wanted work with the three hands.

Donna: Do you want to try that, something like that?

Little Thunder: Yes, that looks wonderful. We're going to take a look at these visually. Here we're looking at the hand designs. I love the texturing pattern work, too.

Donna: The black ones, that's pretty.

Little Thunder: Two more different earrings.

Little Thunder: We're looking at another one of your hands, but it's not in German silver.

Mameah: It's in brass. I forgot to mention I worked in brass, too. It's a little 75:00harder to work with. It doesn't cut as well as the German silver, but all in all it works up about the same.

Little Thunder: And it's a neat look, yeah. Thank you very much for your time today.

Mameah: You're welcome.

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