Arts & Culture » Arts

Three-day Red Earth Festival shines spotlight on more than 1,000 American Indian artists and dancers breathing fresh life into tribal traditions



Red Earth Native American Cultural Festival
Cox Convention Center
1 Myriad Gardens
3-day pass $20, $15 for seniors and kids 6-17
1-day tickets $10, $7.50 for seniors and kids 6-17
Children under 5 free

Festivals abound throughout the summer season, but Red Earth stands out as an expansive, immersive cultural event unlike anything found on the state's calendar. Three days are packed with more than 1,000 artists and dancers exploring tribal history and American Indian culture.

Last year, Red Earth attracted about 26,000 visitors, organizers said. Attendees come for the parade, a massive dance competition and an array of activities and vendors. A 5K fun run/walk starting at Regatta Park and various smaller events in the area both officially and unofficially tied to Red Earth help make for a busy weekend for enthusiasts eager to explore the full tribal experience.

Despite the staggering growth in its 23-year history, Red Earth is more than just a festival. The organization began in 1978 with a museum called The Center of the American Indian. Red Earth now maintains an eponymous museum, which recently relocated downtown City at 6 Santa Fe Plaza from the Kirkpatrick Center Museum Complex. The organization maintains year-round educational programs, including workshops, exhibitions and seminars.

The festival was designed to highlight the scope of American Indian art, both contemporary and traditional, and open further opportunities for dancers and artists. Because enthusiasts will flock to Oklahoma from all across the nation, potter Lisa Rutherford views Red Earth as a critical tool to build on her career. She produces contemporary pieces, as well as traditional Cherokee pottery, the latter being a time-intensive process that nearly fell into obscurity until it was recently revitalized.

"Some of my work is in the stamped style, which was lost for 90 years," she said. "It was recently revived by some of the Eastern Band potters and a couple universities in North Carolina, as well as the Museum of the Cherokee Indian."

Rutherford's first exposure to pottery was through modern methods such as wheel-throwing in college, but it didn't appeal to her as an art form. After assisting other artists on a traditional installation piece years later, she became interested in taking another stab at pottery. She started with wheel-throwing, but eventually found a potters' guild that worked in the traditional Cherokee technique.

Although she continues to create contemporary pieces, Rutherford said she's fallen in love with the traditional style, which isn't just about how to form and fire the clay, but starts with digging up the clay herself. Just cleaning and preparing the clay will take about a week, she said. The designs are stamped and etched into the clay, then polished with a stone and fired in a traditional wood fire.

It is a longer, more labor-intensive process, which not every art patron will understand and appreciate.

"Wheel-thrown modern stuff is fun, but I just feel more connection to my culture with traditional pieces," she said. "It's a process that starts with studying the artifacts in museum collections and finding out more about who originally made them and what they were used for." "?Charles Martin

photo John Keil wears traditional tribal clothing.


Latest in Arts

Add a comment