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Osage artist brings "art therapy" to Artesian Arts Festival

Wendy Ponca believes all art is therapy. Whether it be paint, fiber or jewelry, she believes art is therapeutic for the artist as well as the art consumer.

"Art can make you a much happier person," Ponca said. "That's why I chose to study art therapy. I noticed that Native Americans respond much better to art therapy, rather than talk therapy. A lot of times people don't want to discuss the issues in their lives. I am not sure why. Maybe it's just part of our culture, or maybe we don't trust the people we are sharing our secrets too, but when you do art, you can't hide anything. Your psyche is in your art."

One of 116 elite Native American artists selected to showcase their works at the Artesian Arts Festival, Ponca lends credence to her beliefs with extensive education and experience.

Ponca earned a master's degree in Art Therapy from Southwestern College in Santa Fe, New Mexico and a bachelor's degree in fiber arts from Kansas City Art Institute after earning her high school diploma from the Institute of American Indian Arts (IAIA).

An Osage artists from Fairfax, Oklahoma, she started selling art at the age of 16. Ponca's parents, who both had degrees in Art, sent her to high school at the Institute of American Indian Art.

"My mom got her degree in interior design, and my father got his in painting and industrial design. When they sent me to the Institute of American Indian Art, I got to be around native artists from all-around the United States and Canada," Ponca said. "I got to attend my first powwow, and it really opened my eyes. I was so inspired by all of the symbolism, and different things that Indian tribes do. I just started doing it myself, learning how from classmates and teachers."

Perusing all different forms of art, Ponca was inspired by nature, symbolism and spirituality. Her goal was to work hard, and make beautiful art. She learned many techniques and styles from her teachers, like working with fabric and loom weaving, a technique used to make cloth or fabric.

Ponca later became professor of Fiber Arts and Fashion Design at the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe, where she remained for 17 years.

She works with clean, bright and complementary colors. She wants the pieces of her art to make the eyes jump or to look like it is moving.

Her love for fiber art is influenced by what she described as "sympathetic magic," explaining that she wants to make beautiful art and for people who wear it to feel beautiful.

"I want people to feel good and good things to come to them when they wear my pieces," she said.

Keeping culture alive

Growing up in a Native American home has helped influence Ponca's work. She incorporates her Osage culture into her pieces, and hopes that doing this will help keep her culture alive. Although Ponca uses her Osage symbolism, she gives it her own twist. She does not like to completely copy the Osage symbols, but likes to use unique variations, such as less rigid or geometric symbols, she said.

Being able to carry on historical symbols and meanings is important to Ponca.

"A lot of tribes get lost, and I want this tribe to be perpetuated past my lifetime, she said. "I want my grandchildren and people in my tribe to look at the geometric symbols, and to know where they came from and what they mean. Even though it's a symbol, it actually means and represents something important. I just want to keep our world vibrant and alive."

Ponca said she has felt this way since she was a young girl, when she would go with her family to attend the traditional Osage dances and feasts. In hopes of preserving the Osage history, Ponca has made countless items of traditional Osage clothing that she shows in galleries and sells to museums for permanent collections.

Appreciating the art

Despite her personal experience, or perhaps because of it, Ponca says that anyone can learn to understand and read artwork, and one does not have to earn a degree just to decipher art.

Traveling the world has increased Ponca's appreciation for artwork. She has traveled many places such as Greece and South America to see remnants of items that have survived the course of time. She has a fondness for Greek art and statues, and especially likes the flowing clothing. She also likes the cleanness, design and symbolism of Japanese art. Although she has a love for all art, she said she will always be true to Native American artwork.

"I think our art is superior, I really love it. I just hope that people who have been indoctrinated with Western or European train of thought that once they see Indian art, they really get into it," Ponca said. "The culture here is a wealth of information filled with beautiful symbolism, and it's right at our fingertips. We need to educate the masses more on our culture, history and our art."

Appreciating all forms of art has allowed her to gain ideas from other people's styles and techniques. Looking at the time, patience and amount of skill that goes into traditional artwork is something that also makes Ponca appreciate the craftsmanship of art.

Ponca said it all depends on what she is working on, but sometime she can have a piece finished in a couple of days, while other extremely exquisite items sometimes take years to create. After years of teaching and hard work, Ponca has her own studio where she can spend countless hours on her artwork.

Her website also features much of her work.

Ponca will share her appreciation of art and culture with others Saturday, May 27, at the Artesian Arts Festival, located at the Artesian Plaza adjacent to the Artesian Hotel and Spa, 1001 W. First Street, Sulphur, Oklahoma. She will be one of many artists participating in artist demonstrations and lectures during the festival from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Open to the public at no charge, the Artesian Arts Festival welcomed more than 6,500 to last year's festival.

For more information about the Artesian Arts Festival, contact the Chickasaw Nation Division of Arts & Humanities at (580) 272-5520, or by email at


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