Red Earth Buffalo Bash & Wild West Showdown returns 


This year, Red Earth hopes to channel Pawnee Bill and Calamity Jane in a carnival-like atmosphere for the American Indian cultural art and education nonprofit’s Buffalo Bash event.

Buffalo Bash & Wild West Showdown is the organization’s key annual fundraiser.

Eric Oesch, Red Earth deputy director, said he hopes this year’s event, which is 7 p.m. Nov. 5 at Will Rogers Theatre, 4322 N. Western Ave., appeals to a wide audience and, hopefully, new supporters.

This year’s party will not feature an auction like some of its past iterations have. Instead, guests can participate in several carnival-style games for opportunities to win a variety of prizes, such as day spa passes, event tickets, gift certificates or bottled wines.

“No one’s going to lose,” Oesch said. “If you don’t win a big prize, you might win a drink at the bar; you might win some cotton candy.”

In addition to food and libations, a country band will perform for anyone hoping to practice boot-scootin’. Oesch suggested coming dressed in cowboy duds.

“This party isn’t all [about] Indian art because we realize that some people might not care for Indian art, and that’s fine,” he said.

Oesch hopes the event, which benefits educational and operational efforts of Red Earth Art Center downtown, attracts guests who are new to the nonprofit.

“You always want the next group of supporters, and you’re always trying to reintroduce people to who you are,” he said.

Growing history

Red Earth’s location, a remodeled former salon in the shadow of the historic Skirvin Hilton Hotel, has been the group’s headquarters since 2010.

Oesch’s small office was once home to a few tanning beds.

“I don’t have any drawers or anything, but that’s how nonprofits operate, at least small ones like us,” he said modestly. “Bare-bones.”

The nonprofit employs a handful of full-time employees and part-time staff.

They are, however, managed by a large and diverse board comprised of natives, non-natives, artists and art enthusiasts.

The walls of its facility, which also functions as a museum and gallery, are covered with Indian art of all styles and from all eras. Aside from paintings and sculptures, the museum also features collections of pottery, cradleboards and kachina dolls. Along the glass storefront rest massive totem poles that originated from a tribe in Alaska.

Red Earth is in the process of adding more storage and display space to its headquarters. The completed project will double the size of its home.

Red Earth Inc. launched in 1978 when it established the Center of the American Indian. It merged with Red Earth Native American Cultural Festival in 1992 to form Red Earth.

“It was just the perfect merger because we were able to have good name recognition with year-round operation,” Oesch said.

The yearly Red Earth festival, the largest event the nonprofit puts on each year, began in 1987 to showcase native culture and art. The event built brand recognition through the years, in part by welcoming some of the best indigenous artists in the state and nation. Oesch estimated the event has hosted thousands of artists.

“If you win an award at Red Earth, you’ve pretty well made a name for yourself in the art world,” he said.

Oesch, who has worked off and on with Red Earth since 1998, said while local interest in the festival has fluctuated through the years, its future looks promising.

“Events have peaks and valleys, and we’ve had peaks and valleys before, too,” he said. “But we’re on the upswing, and we had almost 30,000 people attend Red Earth last year. And we have a long-term agreement with [Cox] Convention Center to continue to have it there.”

Defining art

A painting by contemporary artist Tillier Wesley called “Dali Buffalo” is displayed on a wall not too far from Oesch’s office.

Though strong with its use of native imagery, it is stylistically different from what one might envision when considering Native American art. Buffalos walk the plains on spidery stilt legs, and bright colors serve as a counter to familiar and traditional symbols.

“Dali Buffalo,” Oesch said, is a good example of everything native art can be.

“Indian art doesn’t have to be of tepees and people on horseback with feathers,” he said. “Indian art is anything an Indian person creates, so it can be anything.”

For a piece of Native American art to be recognized as such, Oesch said the artist is required to have a Certificate of Degree of Indian Blood (CDIB).

While the turquoise and silverwork style of a place like New Mexico or Arizona might be easy to identify, Oesch said Oklahoma is unique in that its native art has no true defining characteristics.

In all, 39 tribal nations, most of them relocated from other regions, are represented in the state.

As a result, the state has become a melting pot of native art and culture with an “almost endless” talent pool of creative individuals.

“That’s why Oklahoma Indian art is so diverse and it’s hard to pinpoint it,” Oesch said. “I think that makes it fun for us because we get a big variety.”



Print Headline: Native cowboys, The hallmark of Oklahoma’s Native American art is its lack of rigid definitions and expectations.

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