Artistic expression is an important mark of any people, and there are many things about Osage history and culture that we are able to express and preserve. It is also true that we have gifted artists who are capable of preserving visual reflections of our distant past and present.
Every Osage family is a part of the art that is Osage. Osages have art on display in the Osage Tribal Museum. The Osage museum is the oldest tribal museum in the United States. Also, there are numerous works of Osage art held in private collections across the nation, and in some collections far away.
Artist Russell Wagoshe, from a previous generation, is one of those artists who has contributed a great deal to preserve important parts of our culture. Russell created several amazing watercolor paintings that show scenes from the I Lo’n Shka.
The three I Lo’n Shka drums are, by far, the favorite subject of the past hundred years of Osage painting.
The tribal museum has acquired several of Russell’s watercolor paintings and has them in the Tribe’s collection. Among those paintings is a scene of gift giving that follows an individual song that would have been sung on the last day of the dances.
There is a painting Russell did of a tail dancer, and there is a scene that shows singers, around the drum with drumsticks in motion. Other Osage artists have produced similar scenes, giving a more complete appreciation of Osage life.
Russell had a natural ability to recreate a scene that expressed the feeling of the Osage people. He recreated the posture and expression of an Osage dancer, and the clothing and dance attire of the Osage straight dance.
I remember when my brother Jim, an artist, and I were walking along a street in Pawhuska, and we met Russell Wagoshe. Russell and Jim just stopped and started talking about art. I had nothing to add to the conversation, so I listened. Part of the conversation I remember well was their discussion of the importance of working on black and white coloring as a learning tool.
Sometimes art is inspired by a simple scene, such as Gina Gray’s picture of an Osage mother carrying an infant on her back with another child standing beside her.
Art can come from unexpected sources, such as Uncle Wakon Iron who would sometimes sketch images of Osages. He told me he thought it was just a part of our family.
Occasionally, Osage writer John Joseph Mathews expressed his knowledge of Osage life through sketches.
Osage art can be a portrait of Chief Bacon Rind dressed in his Osage clothing, and wearing an Otter hat that was painted one summer by a teen aged Frank Brave.
There are prayers that give insight to the existence of mankind. Giving a visual interpretation to those prayers is one of the more lofty goals of artists.
Archie Mason, the first Speaker of the Osage National Congress is an artist. Speaker Mason and other artists with a deep knowledge of Osages certainly have an understanding that enables them to visually represent the Osage people.
Beautiful art has been inspired by prayers that were a part of rituals that were held by spiritual men and spiritual women. Prayers that give insight to the existence of mankind.
Osage ribbon work is a beautiful form of art. The designs and colors of ribbon work can be very personal to the artist, and to those who use and appreciate the art, giving the ribbon work a unique standing in the world of art.
Finger weaving is another form of Osage art that is very personal and is an important part of the I Lo’n Shka.
There are many ways of acknowledging Osage art. Too many, it seems. I have hardly begun to write about all of the Osage artists that I set out to write about.