'She Persisted': Red Earth is showcasing the work of six female artists
Lauretta Newby-Coker has learned to live with the nicks on her fingers and keep an ample supply of bandages on hand.
“I have cut myself so many times I can’t tell you. I do wear gloves, but you know what, you have a heck of a time picking up little tiny pieces. … A lot of times without even noticing, I will have taken my glove off of my right hand,” she said.
“I just wear lots of Band-aids. It doesn’t deter me a bit. It’s well worth it, let me tell you.”
Although she has worked in several media — from forensic art and book illustration to large-scale murals and scrimshaw for musical instruments — the Noble-based artist is perhaps best known for her mosaics meticulously pieced together from hundreds of glass shards.
“I don’t have the patience — can you believe it — to do a puzzle because I have a hard time standing still. Nonetheless, I will stand for hours — and I mean hours and hours and hours — cutting those pieces for a mosaic,” said Newby-Coker, an art teacher for Norman Public Schools.
“You forget to go cook supper for your husband; you forget that it’s time for you to go over and pick the grandkids up. … You forget everything, and let me tell you, you don’t have a care in the world. Time flies by, and it just makes you feel so good inside. It’s just so gratifying.”
Newby-Coker is among six award-winning female artists who are showing their work in “She Persisted,” a group show presented by Red Earth Art Center at Science Museum Oklahoma.
“We’ve had women in shows with men, as well, and we’ve had men’s shows by themselves. But we’ve never had an all-female show, so we thought it was about time,” Red Earth Inc. co-Director Eric Oesch said.
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“Becoming an artist and learning a living as an artist is an exercise in persistence. … It’s a hard way to make a living; a lot of people can’t do it or they don’t do it for their main income. And you have to be persistent to be good at anything you do.”
“She Persisted” is on view through May 28 on a second-floor gallery space at the science museum, which Oesch said in some ways feels like being back at home.
“We were located here for 30 years before we moved downtown in 2010. So, it is a blast from the past, and it’s fun to be back. I can’t tell you how impressed I am with all the changes here at the science museum. It’s just magnificent, and we’re thrilled to have the opportunity to be here,” he said.
The Red Earth Art Center is at 6 Santa Fe Plaza, adjacent to the Skirvin Hilton Hotel, and the gallery currently is surrounded by heavy equipment and traffic cones. Still, he said the nonprofit is persisting in its mission to promote American Indian art and culture and provide an outlet for Native artists to show and sell their work.
“If you’ve been downtown recently, you’ve seen that there’s a lot of construction going on around there,” Oesch said. “We decided for this show that we would have it off-site, have a satellite show, because it’d be more convenient for people to come and see the art that we’re so proud to have on display. … Art doesn’t do us any good if it’s sitting in our vault with no one to see, so we’re trying to get out to the public.”
“She Persisted” features the work of six Red Earth Festival award winners working in a variety of styles and media. A 2016 Governor’s Art Award winner, Norman artist and teacher Carol Armstrong is renowned for her vivid portraits of Native Americans in their regalia, and her oil paintings “The Princess” and “The Prince” are among the exhibit’s highlights.
Diana Beach-Stamper also is renowned for her paintings, which are featured in the permanent collections of more than 30 museums, including the Red Earth Art Center. Stamper has four oil paintings in “She Persisted.”
A 2014 Governor’s Art Awards recipient, Anita Caldwell Jackson, a lifelong McAlester resident who recently relocated to Canton, Texas, is known for her leather sculptures, including the pointed work “Broken Promises,” depicting an eagle clutching a fractured treaty in its talons. Renee Hoover, who was born in Tahlequah and adopted as a child, grew up in Enid and connected with her Cherokee heritage as an adult, joining the proud tradition of Cherokee basket makers.
Claremore artist Karin Walkingstick said her inclusion in “She Persisted” has made her even prouder of her place in the line of Cherokee potters. She said her life changed when she accepted a friend’s invitation to attend a pottery class taught by Cherokee National Treasure Jane Osti.
“I got hooked from that first class. I really enjoyed Jane and kind of wanted to get to know her more, found out more about other classes that she was teaching … and I just kept going,” Walkingstick said. “Anna Mitchell was Jane Osti’s teacher. After the Trail of Tears, we had lost our pottery, and Anna Mitchell revived Cherokee pottery in the late ′60s and ′70s. … She worked at it and worked at it because she had no one to show her. She did all of this and kind of paved the road for the rest of us.”
Since she took her first class with Osti almost six years ago, Walkingstick has been devoted to creating Cherokee “slab and coil” pottery.
“The slab part is like rolling out a piece of dough like you would with a rolling pin and then cut it in a circle and lay it over something round. It could be another stainless steel bowl or a bowling ball, doesn’t matter, just something round. When it’s dry enough to hold its shape, you can turn it over and then start adding a coil to it, building it up taller and thinner. Then, you had another coil and build it up taller and thinner, and shape it along the way,” she said. “It does take a lot of time and patience. … You have to love it, I think, to stick with it.”
For Newby-Coker, the love of art also has been sustaining during hard times, like when her husband died in 2016 in the midst of working on her masterwork, a 7-feet-by-12-feet glass mosaic for the Choctaw Nation Regional Medical Clinic in Durant.
“Being into my artwork so much helped me to get by through some really rough times. You just forget everything. … You just start paying attention to your colors and placement and you don’t have a care in the world,” she said.
“She Persisted” presented by Red Earth Art Center
When: Through May 28.
Where: Science Museum Oklahoma, 2020 Remington Place.
Information: www.redearth.org or 427-5228.