fig. 13: Anita Fields
(working on Elements of Her Being)
Photograph by Tom Fields.
Anita Fields, born in 1951, belongs to the Osage and Plains Indian community in the Midwest. She was probably the first Indian potter to create conceptual installation pieces, and she often incorporates abstracted images of traditional clothing and artifacts. Her use of domestic motifs is intended to honor all women, particularly those of Indian descent.
Raised in Hominy, Oklahoma, Anita is one of a few American Indian potters who do not live in the Southwest. Although the entire country we now call the United States of America was once populated with potters of all Indian groups, the mainstream of continuous clay tradition exists today in the twenty southwestern pueblos in New Mexico and Arizona and in the Navajo nation.
Anita was influenced by traditional Osage ribbon work, clothing, and blankets. She also studied the objects and ceremonial dress of other tribes. The personal and emotional elements in these textile designs led Anita to use them symbolically in clay, translating the personality of these vestments into her work. About one of her recent series, Native American Dresses, which are coil-and slab-built installations, Anita says: "The dresses convey my attitudes toward the strength of women and how native peoples show remarkable resourcefulness and adaptability toward their environment. The clothing Indian women created shows great pride, dignity, and hope in a culture facing insurmountable odds."
fig. 14: Elements of Her Being, 1994, by Anita Fields.
Polychrome with terra sigillata, gold leaf, and sawdust; 6 x 5 x 3 ft.
Collection of the artist. Photograph by Tom Fields.
Making art was Anita's earliest desire. She has been doing it in one form or another from childhood. "It was an intuitive thing; I knew I was doing something right." She attended Santa Fe Indian School, married, had children, and made functional pottery. Seven years ago, after completing a college degree, she made a commitment to change direction, becoming a full-time clay artist. "Response to clay is so immediate," she explains. "I believe it's the tactile quality, the involvement with the material and with the process that intrigues me - I take it from the earth and make something out of my head."
By working the clay in the indigenous fashion of making handbuilt earthenware, Anita feels that the material is transformed into this powerful medium because it was created by the natural forces of the earth and time. She says she fuses her thoughts and ideas with the clay's vitality.
fig. 15: Woman of the Stars, 1994, by Anita Fields.
Polychrome with terra sigillata, gold leaf, and sawdust;
27.5x16.25x6 in. Private collection.
Anita finishes her work with softly-colored terra sigillatas, as did the ancient Greeks. This very fine clay slip coating is applied on the surface before the pieces are dry. The sigillata can then be stone-polished to produce a sheen or left unburnished to look and feel like raw earth. Anita's work is usually fired in an electric kiln and finished by a postsmoking process with sawdust, straw, or leaves. Many times she adorns nonsmoked sculptures with tiny rakued additions, such as the elk teeth on sculptures of native costumes.
Anita lives in Stillwater, Oklahoma, with her Osage husband and three children. They participate in the nearby Osage community ceremonials and other events, such as social gatherings and the feasts where the ritual is "putting out the food" to share. "We live in a time that is difficult for our culture. My grandmother gave me my Indian heritage, and I give it to my family because I know it will give them strength.
fig. 16: Three dresses, 1995, by Anita Fields.
Terra sigillata, gold leaf, and sawdust;
19.5x8x3 in., 18x10x4 in., and 17.5x11.5x4 in.
Collection of Sherre Davidson and private collection.
Photograph by Sanford Mulden.
"My dream pieces go along with understanding who I am. My most prized possessions were my grandmother's clothes, which she gave me for me to know who she was. My works that have figures in them I want to feel are generic, not anyone in particular, but spiritual. I want to show the spirituality of us as women, how we fit into a family, how we remain strong yet filled with love, and how we overcome all difficulties."
Anita believes that it is the spirit within, the strong human spirit, that transcends cultural boundaries, and she is intrigued with trying to impart that idea through her claywork. Her multiple-piece installations as well as her iconlike sculptures are artistically significant. Her work sets her apart from other American Indian artists because she is so involved in living and parodying her own culture.
"It takes a long time in this life to know yourself. Clay is my narrative, reflective of my journey."
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All text © Susan Peterson.
Edited by Susan Ressler, based on compilation
© 1997 Abbeville Press and The National Museum of Women in the Arts.