Anita Fields has been creating conceptual mixed-media installations and unique ceramic sculptures for more than 40 years.
Anita Fields’ self-description clues you in that her wide-ranging talents aren’t easy to categorize: “Clay sculpture, contemporary ceramics, traditional Osage ribbon work, arts educator. Also Osage In-Lon-Schka Hominy committee cook, specialty — grape dumplings.”
If she didn’t have you at sculpture, ceramics, or ribbon work, she certainly got you at dumplings. But as delicious as those dumplings sound, it’s all about the art.
As a young child, Fields (Osage, Muscogee) lived on the Osage Reservation in Hominy, Oklahoma. There she was influenced by her seamstress grandmother, who instilled in her a love of textiles and texture. Soon she moved to Denver, where she was exposed to a museum for the first time. As she grew up, instead of gravitating to functional sewing, Fields was drawn to nonfunctional art. Now when she works with fabric ideas, they’re often rendered in ceramic or with ribbon, taking inspiration from traditional Osage art forms.
She’s been creating conceptual mixed-media installations and unique ceramic sculptures for more than 40 years with a body of work that is varied and vast. Nationally recognized for her unique ribbon work and nonfunctional earthenware, Fields has seen her work collected by museums as diverse as the pieces themselves, from the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City to the Museum of Art and Design in New York City to the National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C.
Fields’ ceramic work derives some of its power from her surprising choices of what to portray in clay. You won’t find the usual pots and figures here but instead traditional Osage dinner settings, buckskin dresses, fanciful clutch purses complete with contents like ceramic combs and hand mirrors.
We caught up with Fields in Oklahoma, shortly after she had temporarily moved her studio back to her home in Stillwater from Tulsa, where she is in the fourth year of a Tulsa Artist Fellowship.
Cowboys & Indians: What inspires you about being an Osage artist, and how did you discover clay and earthenware as one of your main mediums?
Anita Fields: I have been doing art ever since I was a little girl and it made me very happy while growing up. I then went on to study at the Institute of American Indian Art, where I learned to work with clay — it was one of the mediums where I could really express what I wanted to say artistically. The work that I am doing now has been greatly influenced by my Native roots, and I’ve been exploring what makes us who we are and how we are different from mainstream society. The Osage philosophies are based on the division of earth, water, and sky, centered on eons and eons of studying the natural world, and I make expressions alluding to these elements.
C&I: We love your clothing sculptures. One of our favorite pieces is Finding Our Way to the Earth.
Fields: The bodice of the dress is representative of the sky and the skirt is representative of the earth — meant to represent the dichotomy of earth and sky and how that plays out in Osage life. It is a story told from a feminine viewpoint with the imagery of our DNA along with distressed ink writings on the full silk skirt, and the bodice is made from porcelain clay.
C&I: In 2019 you participated in an exhibition called Voices From the Drum at the Osage Nation Museum in Pawhuska, Oklahoma. The idea was to use the drum as an artistic canvas, document the role of the drum in Osage culture, and promote Osage artists.
Fields: This was a project put forward by the Osage Nation Foundation. One of our premier drum makers created drums for all of us who were accepted, and we then put our images on the 19 drums based on our proposal. I chose an image of my great-grandfather with gold circles emanating away from him, representing the movement of the sun.
C&I: During the 2020 quarantine, you created a beautiful mask made with ribbons and braided, beaded streamers. Tell us a little about that piece.
Fields: First American Art magazine put out a call on social media for entries for a virtual community exhibit, Masked Heroes, that was going to be held several weeks later. Luckily after the pandemic hit, I brought my ribbons and sewing machine back to my home in Stillwater, which is about 60 miles away from my studio in Tulsa. I decided to create a mask using colorful aesthetics that are familiar to the Osage culture, including beaded streamers, cut-and-fold Osage ribbon work, brass sequins, and bells. The name of the piece is All of My Heroes Wear Ribbon Work; it is in the permanent collection of the National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C.
Anita Fields’ work will be exhibited through October 3 in the exhibition Powerful Women at the Eiteljorg Museum in Indianapolis and October 1 to November 21 as part of the two-artist show The Space Between, with fellow Native artist Molly Murphy Adams, at the 108 Contemporary in Tulsa, Oklahoma. For more on the artist, visit anitafieldsart.com.
Photography: Images courtesy the artist
From our January 2021 issue.