Master Potter Richard Zane Smith

Larry Madden

larry madden | yl voice | june 2019

Wyandot Indians isn't a name that falls from many lips but turn the clock back and it was a common sound in the Ohio valley of colonial America. More common was the Huron name of southern Canada and after conflict with their Iroquois relatives from the south and east, they gathered in what is now northern Ohio along with other displaced peoples under the Wyandot title. Things wouldn't get any easier as they stood in the direct path of westward expansion. A special relationship with the Shawnee led to conflict with the American forces at the Battle of Fallen Timbers in the War of 1812. The defeat suffered by Tecumseh and his allied forces splintered and split the Wyandot once again. Jacksonian policies pushed Wyandot as far west as Kansas and later in Oklahoma with the Delaware people.

Richard Zane Smith is a potter and descendent of the Wyandot, who enjoys working with natural clays in the ancient style of thin coils, clay rolled and shaped into forms. This style was inspired by the prehistoric styles of the southwestern indigenous peoples. His remarkable styles resemble woven pots, and closer inspection reveals these are in fact clay creations. With slip painted in intricate patterns and vibrant colors, the beauty of his work is not only eye catching but breathtaking. To pottery aficionados Smith's work is easily identified by his use of color, design and occasional use of contemporary wood and bone.

Smith's education began at home, listening to stories as he and his siblings drew.

“Clay excited me from high school and all through my art school years,” he says.

He also enjoyed other natural material from wood, leather and bone. Later in his professional career among the Navajos in Arizona, he would be exposed to the ancient shards of pottery from the Anasazi and the natural clays of the Southwest. Combined with interests of Wyandot language and traditional culture revival came the desire to revisit the pottery of his people.

Historically art has always been a part of native cultures, by combining utilitarian items along with intricate belief systems and language. These items entwined with tribal totems and family influences result in varied and unique pieces that until recently have not commanded their place in the art category. With the advent of colonization many art forms were lost to trade goods replacement as in the cases of pottery. With the arrival of the iron trade pot, the utilitarian value of pottery plummeted. The potter, once a necessary skill for everyday life, slipped into the shadows, as did his signature of designs and patterns. This, followed by religious fervor, urbanization and demands of a modern society directly affected many traditional art forms.

At the Oneida Arts Program a concerted effort has been put forth to preserve these art forms. Sponsoring varied forms of art all year, the time has come for a master-level pottery workshop with Richard Zane Smith, not only to preserve but to promote this pottery art form for future generations. From these workshops the artisans of tomorrow bloom and promote their financial future.

On Tuesday, August 7, 2019, the 20 Years from Now: Master Artists & Apprentice Artists Series grant allows you the chance to create and participate in what becoming another endangered Indian art form. The Oneida Community Education Center will be the site of the First Peoples Institute, engaging in artist training from 8:30 a.m.- 4:30 p.m. Please don't miss these activities sponsored by both Oneida Arts Program and Community Education Center. Master Artists travel to Wisconsin to share skills that might cost travel and lesson cost anywhere else. Show not only the Oneida Nation your appreciation but these giving artists, in this case Richard Zane Smith.

The 20 Years from Now: Master Artists & Apprentice Artists Series grant was awarded to Oneida Arts Program by the First Nations Development Institute's Native Art Initiative. First Nations Development Institute strives to create economic opportunities based on strategies in Indian Country that concentrate on Native communities controlling their assets, including cultural, institutional, natural resource and political assets among others.

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