Story by Darl Devault, Feature Writer
Osage master artist Clancy Gray is excited and grateful to show his artwork at the annual Red Earth Festival coming up June 12-13 at the Grand Casino Hotel in Shawnee for being his one constant for exposure in the time of COVID-19.
Gray says his being selected Red Earth The Honored One in 2019 and the Festival being held with masks in 2020 is probably the reason he was nominated in 2020 to receive an Oklahoma Governor’s Art Award.
He said one of the surprising parts of being nominated for the Governor’s Art Award is the nomination came forward in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Governor’s Arts Awards is an annual event recognizing individuals and organizations for their contributions to the arts in Oklahoma. First awarded in 1975, the awards are presented by Gov. Kevin Stitt during a special ceremony at the State Capitol.
The selection committee may honor a recipient in a category of its choice. Gray assumes if selected his award would be an Arts in Education Award for promoting Native American art and cultural. It recognizes an individual, organization, school, educator or group for their outstanding leadership and service in the arts benefitting youth and/or arts in education.
During his 39-year career teaching high school art in the Greater Tulsa area Gray taught several thousand students at three schools.
“I was fortunate even when art shows were scarce, someone was evaluating my life-long contribution to art in Oklahoma enough to nominate me,” Gray said. “This new status, even if I am not selected this year, makes me doubly proud to be a member of the Osage Nation, both as a former art teacher and artist.,”
The Red Earth Honored One is an annual award presented to a visual artist whose support of Native art has been substantial throughout his or her life and whose continuing involvement, activity and participation in their art form embodies the collective wisdom of their cultural experience.
This year’s Red Earth again features a large art show, lectures, demonstrations, activities, a dance grand entry and opening ceremony.
“People always talk about my versatility in describing my efforts as an artist. They are amazed I work in so many media— mainly painting, watercolor, pencil drawing, silversmithing jewelry, sculpting and pottery,” Gray said. “I am fortunate my long-time patrons and my dozen or so international clientele continued to commission my work as I continue to honor my Native American heritage in creating all this art, even during the pandemic.”
Continuing his tradition of gaining notice for his individual works of art at the Red Earth Festival, Gray received recognition again in 2020 for his silversmithing of two jewelry pieces “Elegant Ring and Bracelet.”
“I have always been blessed in receiving recognition at Red Earth, as well as other art shows because I do not limit myself to one media, but create in many media,” Gray said.
Last fall, the Oklahoma Arts Council accepted nominations for the 2021 Governor’s Arts Awards, expecting to present the awards in spring 2021. They altered the timeframe as the COVID-19 pandemic evolved. Following the guidance of public health officials, the Oklahoma Arts Council adjusted the timeframe for the awards ceremony, with the goal of presenting the awards in fall 2021.
“Again, I am humbled by the nomination to be a Governor’s Art Award recipient,” Gray said.
Gray, who retired in 2018, says he is grateful he was able to just be doing his own art during the pandemic, instead of trying to teach his way through a school year impacted by COVID-19. He says, “God Bless Our Teachers!”
“My 39 years of teaching has allowed me to showcase many Native American youth in various shows, events, contests and scholarships,”. Gray said. “Exposing our Native American art student’s talents outside of their schoolwork was very important for their futures.”
Gray’s dramatic use of depth in the impasto style of painting has elevated his status in the Native American art world. His use of a palette knife to apply vivid acrylics gives the paintings depth and allows light to animate the focus of his work. This signature style allows the Osage master artist to create a modern ruggedness celebrating the light’s reflective sparkle built up in some areas.
By creating a ceramic glaze depth with skillful repetitious palette strokes of the water-based acrylic paint his paintings are unique. Those high-gloss highlights have a richness of color which capture the eye, whether portrait and figure, still life, or landscape.
For the collector there is a stillness, balance and yet movement in his work. The art patrons celebrate Gray’s intentional building up of depth in the painting highlighted by brilliant hues or light catching the shiny acrylic. Many art patrons add extra lighting to those areas in their homes where they display his work to get the full effect of his talent.
Osage Nation member and bronze casting legend John Free Jr. casts most of Gray’s sculptures at his Bronze Horse Foundry in Pawhuska, Okla. Free is famous for capturing the artist’s real goal in their work by applying some of the most skilled patinas in the crucible industry.
Gray said John and Matt Free’s ability to create a life-like patina to the many bronze sculpture he has created over the years has added to his own ability to create innovative patinas.
“It is an honor and a privilege to get to work with John Free and his group at the Bronze Horse Foundry.” Gray said. “I always say sculpting success is a two-part process, the artist who first creates it in clay and the foundry artisans who duplicate it in bronze for them.”
Gray’s traditional and contemporary influenced jewelry reflects the Osage master silversmith’s fondness for vivid color, texture, and asymmetrical design. The silver jewelry is often the most collected of his work and leads to the most commissions. This nationally collected master silversmith has won many awards in exhibitions and museum shows.
The Red Earth Native American Cultural Festival is one of the largest Native American cultural events in the country. It is held at the event center at the Grand Casino Hotel & Resort, a tribally-owned business 30 minutes east from downtown Oklahoma City on I-40.
The festival features a juried art market and competition attracting artists and collectors from across the state and nation.
Red Earth, Inc. is an Allied Arts member agency and is funded in part by the Chickasaw Nation, Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma, Kirkpatrick Family Fund, James H. and Madalynne Norick Foundation, Oklahoma’s News 4, Allied Arts, and the Oklahoma Arts Council which receives support from the State of Oklahoma and the National Endowment for the Arts.
The Festival sponsors include the Grand Casino Hotel & Resort, Visit Shawnee and Communication Federal Credit Union