Articles

April 29, 2012

“Still Dreaming” Cheyenne River Sioux contemporary ceramic artist Keri Fischer

 “I want to teach some of the Native youth, the students, that you can be a nurse and an artist at the same time – an accountant or a painter….” “Right now I believe my pottery defines who I am.”

By Abena Songbird Native Legacy Magaine (Vol. 3 Issue 3 Summer 2010)
There is a fresh, burgeoning talent on the Northern Plains Art circuit these days: 22-year- old contemporary ceramic artist, Keri LaVonne Fischer, an enrolled member of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe and Eagle Butte native. Her parents are Charles and Kristy Fischer. A recent nursing graduate from the University of South Dakota, Fischer also is seeing the rapid rise of her talent. Garnering both first and second place at last year’s Northern Plains Indian Art Market, her work caught the appreciative eye of former Sioux Indian Museum curator Paulette Montileaux, who then discussed the possibility of showing her work. “I didn’t think too much would come from it,” says Fischer. “There are so many other amazing, talented artists out there and I’m new to shows.” Quite to her surprise, she received a “wonderful” email from Montileaux shortly after the show requesting her work for display. Her current solo Exhibition, ‘Still Dreaming” was previously on display at the prestigious Sioux Indian Museum inside the Journey Museum in Rapid City. 15 pieces of her pottery were featured through July 7, 2010 as the museum continues to premiere Native American artists. Fischer’s art career began the second semester of her junior year at Cheyenne Eagle Butte High School, where she took an art class which included ceramics.
 “I got the opportunity to work on the wheel (pottery) and I was adamant – ‘I want to work on the wheel, I want to do this,’ “At first I was horrible, I couldn’t even center a piece of clay,” she said of those early experiments. “I would work so hard on centering one piece of clay my hands would start bleeding.” Fischer however, pursued the process tenaciously. “It made me want to keep going with ceramics,” she noted. She then became involved in a project called “Empty Bowls.” Students would create pottery bowls and sell them for $5 each to benefit those in the community. With each sale, people would get a bowl of soup. The proceeds would go to those needing help with medical and travel expenses. “It really inspired me – this feeling that I could help make a difference; making something and have someone buy it and it go toward a good cause,” said Fischer. In her junior year it was art teacher Bev Rose who encouraged her to continue to pursue her gift after graduation by attending Oscar Howe Summer Art Institute sponsored by the Oscar Howe Memorial Association at the University of South Dakota, Vermillion. “It gave me the opportunity to look at Native Art from a different perspective,” Fischer said of her early experience. “Before when I would think of Native Art I would think of: Indian in a headdress, tipis, and that type of stuff but to find a way to portray Native art in your own way – I think that’s been the most challenging thing for me. Going to the Oscar Howe Art Institute really helped me to realize I can be a Native artist doing subtle things.” Fisher keeps her contemporary pottery shapes round and circular because she explains that the circle is a sacred form to the Lakota people.
 “I don’t have to put an Indian in a headdress on a pot or a buffalo to make it Native art – to define me. “Right now I believe my pottery defines who I am.” Prestigious artists such as Oglala Lakota painter, Gerald Cournoyer were among the many artists at Howe Institute that really inspired her that summer as well as Diné artist, Marwin Begaye. “They pushed me in a way,” she said. “They knew I had potential that I didn’t see in myself.” Fischer says it took almost four more years, her junior year in college, to realize this potential.
Though primarily a contemporary artist, she also incorporates her Lakota culture into her work. Under the tutelage of USD ceramics instructor, Michael Hill, Fischer began using horsehair from her grandfather Leo Fischer’s 30 year-old horse, Paleface, to create her unique horsehair
pieces.
“When I put a piece of Paleface’s hair on a pot it makes me realize where I come from, and staying true to my home,” she said. Hill encouraged her also to learn the ancient Japanese style of pottery – Raku. The process Fischer most enjoys in the making of ceramics is using her hands. She also uses a ribbing tool made of metal to do the finishes on the outside of her pots, and a sponge. “I depend on my hands to create the piece of artwork that I do.” In the glazing process she sets her heated pots on newspaper which catch fire, as the glaze begins to change she covers the pot with a metal trash can, which causes oxidation, and the unique copper, blue and green Raku hues to form. She also creates “white crackle glazes” from pre-bisque pots, ready to be fired for Raku. She places tape on the outside to sections she wants kept black in the firing, glazes the pot and then peels off the tape leaving the bare clay with dark lines. This oxidation reduction process traps the carbon in the pots creating the cracks. Keeping with her circular tradition, Fischer attempts to draw the eye 360 degrees around her pieces. “I try to make a person want to walk all around the pot to see what’s on the other side,” she says. In many of her Raku pieces, people see images created by the glaze, such as a copper horse head, which she says are welcomed, though unintentional. “He’s (Hill) taught me so much,” she said. He taught her how to make and use her own glazes and has done numerous demonstrations on how she can improve her technique and ceramic work. “In my pottery career he pushes me in a good way,” she says, ‘If I’m doing something incorrect, he makes me figure it out for myself.” “He’s such a positive person. He wants me to have a purpose for everything I do with my art.” Fischer explained to Hill the purpose of using horsehair in her work as a Lakota, was to honor her people’s rich horse culture, and to bring her family into the clay. She heats one of her pots up to 1,300 – 1,500 degrees in a kiln, removes the pot from the kiln with tongs and sets it on a table. She then takes the horsehair and places it on the pot the way she likes it. The hair burns into the pot and creates a carbon-like marking where the horsehair was placed. It actually becomes an organic part of the pot. “The definition of the lines where the horsehair was – you can’t see the horsehair – but the lines, are the actual horsehair that burned into the piece,” she explains.
Future goals
After passing her NCLEX nursing exam this summer, Fischer plans to return to her home reservation in Cheyenne River to work at Indian Health Services as a nurse and live as a community artist. She hopes to have art classes to help inspire and teach youth. Having created all of her current pieces at USD, she also aspires to create a home studio; with her own wheel and kiln and someday hopes to see her pieces travel overseas. “While I am working back home as a nurse I want to involve the youth,” she said, adding that she is currently a mentor at USD’s summer program and for the past couple of years has mentored Native youth through their first year on campus. “I just mentor students to find they really do have something special about them and they can achieve whatever they want if they just set their minds to it.” This, she says, is what really helped her; having key people in high school, at Howe, and USD really push her and encourage her. “I want to teach some o t

he students that you can be a nurse and an artist at the same time – an accountant or a painter….” “I think art is a vital part of everyone’s life. Even if they think they aren’t artistic, they are,” said Fischer. In addition to the show at the Sioux Indian Museum at the Journey,  at time of printing (Native Legacy magaine issue: Vol. 3 Issue 3 Summer 2010) Fischer had her work on display throughout the USD campus and at the

Prairie Star Gallery in Sioux Falls. One recent Christmas she also created 25 pieces of her horsehair pottery and gifted them to family members. ”

It was my way of sharing my talent with my family,” she said. “It’s really humbling when people comment on my work because I’m still in

shock,” Fischer says of her recent success. “It’s because I’m still dreaming.” “To be able to graduate from college and still be able to stay true to my art roots is humbling.” Fischer says she dreams many of her designs, and of making her pieces. “They are completely random dreams but they help me toward how I am going to do a pot – glaze it…”

She hopes to experiment with new firings with her pieces but holds Raku “close to her heart.” She is thinking of retiring her horsehair pottery once Paleface, the horse her grandpa had when her father was a boy, passes away, but for now enjoys going out with her grandpa and father to feed the horses and collecting his hair. “I try to get Paleface to come – he’s a stubborn horse,” she laughs.
 Her Raku pottery piece, “Still Dreaming” is currently her favorite piece. “I just don’t really have words for why, but that’s one pot I will never give up. Of all my pottery, “Still Dreaming,” with all the different colors, and everything going on with it – all the glazes – I still see something new every time I look at it.” “It’s just all the emotion a person feels, that’s what I feel when I see it.” Previously on display at the Journey Museum in Rapid City, it was the title piece from her premier show.



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