Jeri Red Corn is among the 47 artists chosen by the Obama family to have their artworks displayed in the White House. Red Corn’s pot “Intertwining Scrolls” will grace the Oval Office.
“At first I couldn’t think of anything when I found out and then I was just so excited,” Red Corn, 69, said. “When I got off the phone I went running through the house yelling, ‘I can’t believe this, this is heaven!’”
“Later I got to thinking of the significance of it all, that it’s [in the Oval Office] and how many people will see it and that is truly, truly satisfying,” Red Corn said.
The First Couple worked with White House curators to select works of art on loan from museums across the country. Red Corn’s pot came from the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian where it had been displayed since 2004. It joins 47 works that include three other Native American ceramists, including the late Maria Martinez of San Ildefonso Pueblo, one abstract painting and 12 paintings depicting Native Americans by the 19th-century ethnographic artist George Catlin.
According to an article by the Washington Post, White House curator William Allman speaks of the Obamas' borrowings as expressing “probably more interest in truly modern art” than was seen in previous administrations.
Red Corn, Caddo and Citizen Potawatomi, couldn’t agree more.
“Caddo pottery is different and I’m glad they did that recognition, that these are exciting designs, modernistic,” Red Corn said. “Although they’re old, they’re good.”
Red Corn’s clay pot “Intertwining Scrolls” is a replica of a 500-year-old Caddo clay pot with swirling, geometric designs, hand-etched into the clay. Red Corn, who tried to stay as true to how the Caddo would have done their pottery 500 years ago, etched the designs using sharp metal tools and sometimes bone. Instead of using a kiln, a modern potter’s way of firing their pot, she built a fire and fired the pot inside of it. Once the pot was set, she rubbed red clay into the designs to make the pattern stand out from the black pot. Red Corn spent three months working on "Intertwining Scrolls" in 1994.
“[Pottery] was something that I just fell into,” Red Corn said. “I started loving it and started thinking, [Caddos] as a tribe, need to do more to get this art going and revise it . . . but art is difficult. I’m not saying it’s not fun to do but this particular art is not quick, it really takes time. Everything is hand detailed, hand coiled, wood fired, it’s not as technically quick as a kiln. A lot of experimentation, a lot of failures and success.”
Her husband of 46 years, Osage author Charles Red Corn, never expected this for his wife but is happy to know that all of her hard work has paid off. He said that when she first came to him to let him know she wanted to study ceramics, especially Caddo designs, he thought it was a good idea and that the story of how the Caddo had to give up their art due to the harsh conditions of Removal, he knew it would be something his wife would cherish.
“I think she’s earned the honor and her heart is in her artwork and it’s good for me to watch her be rewarded for what she accomplished,” Charles Red Corn said. “During the last 15 years, there were times when she didn’t know exactly what she was pursuing but there was a drive there and she kept after it and now people are saying she pursued something, she reached it and it was very worthwhile.”
Red Corn, who works out of her home in Norman, sells most of her work to collectors and travels to art shows in her spare time. Her work can be seen in Tribes 131 Fine Arts & Gifts in Norman, the Smithsonian and the George Gustav Heye Museum in New York City. She won first place in pottery recently at the Southeast Art Show and Market hosted by the Chickasaw Nation.
Red Corn was told that her pot will be placed to President Barack Obama’s left, toward the front of the room when he is sitting at his presidential desk. The pot probably won’t be visible in official photographs of the president but it will be something he sees every day.
“I’m sure this means a lot to Native people to have these pieces of art chosen [by the Obama family],” Red Corn said. “Reaching out and including another group of people, a new direction . . . We are getting recognized after years of not being included, being almost an afterthought.”