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Standing Buffalo Gallery wants to create market for Oklahoma’s Native artists

NORMAN, Okla. – “Standing Buffalo” has two meanings to Tom Farris. On one level, it’s the translation of his Otoe middle name, “Chadonayhe.” On the other, it’s the name of Farris’ art gallery at 106 E. Main in Norman, Okla. that opened in January.

Farris, 29, has a lifelong interest in American Indian art. An enrolled member of the Cherokee Nation and of Otoe-Missouria descent, Farris said he began collecting art as a teenager.

“My parents always collected, so I grew up with it. I started collecting when I was 16. I got my first major piece – an R.W. Geionety, which is George Geionety’s son. I really liked his style – it was more modern than his dad’s, but still traditional at the same time. I’ve been building on it ever since.”

While studying communications at the University of Science and Arts of Oklahoma in Chickasha, Farris’ interest in American Indian art grew in part from Chickasha’s close proximity to Anadarko, Okla., where internationally known artists such as the Kiowa Five lived and started their careers.

While at USAO, Farris landed an internship at the Jacobson House Native Art Center in Norman. The Jacobson House was the original home of Oscar Jacobson, the art professor to the Kiowa Five during their studies at the University of Oklahoma.

“It just turned out I had a natural aptitude for [art galleries],” said Farris. “I knew a lot of these artists. I’d grown up and could recognize their styles. I found that I fit in really well with that business.”

Eventually, Farris became assistant director of the Jacobson House, working there for four years and learning about the business of art and being a curator for art exhibits. Following his work there, he worked as the director of the Cherokee Art Market for two years. Farris said that working there gave him opportunities for traveling and meeting many Native artists, but he was eager to return to Norman.

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Photos by Brian Daffron

“Buffalo” and “Coyote” acrylics on canvas painted by Arapaho artist Brent Learned.

“I like Norman quite a bit, so I wanted to come home and do something here. This just seemed like a logical step. I’d done things that had been real successful for other people. A lot of them had been essentially my idea, but had always had other people’s input and control. I wanted to do something that I could completely handle myself that I didn’t have to run by anybody’s permission. I have the freedoms to do what I wanted to do.”

Since his opening reception in January 2008, “Standing Buffalo” has held several exhibits and events, including participation in the Norman Art Walk, a collaborative art tour with other Norman galleries; “Blossoms, Berries and Beauties,” a show featuring the work of Keetoowah-Creek artist Virginia Stroud; and “Live Paint” sessions featuring Native artists such as Micah Wesley, Brent Greenwood and Matt Bearden. The live paint sessions have the artists begin the evening with blank canvases and are given two hours to complete a work.

More recent shows have featured the work of Choctaw artist Dylan Cavin and “Creatures and Spirits of American Indian Lore,” a show with artists drawing inspiration from stories such as “Deer Woman” and “Little People.”

The gallery features art from Kiowa Five painters like Stephen Mopope up to contemporary American Indian artists. If a gallery viewer starts with the Kiowa Five paintings and walks clockwise around the gallery, it presents a history of the evolution of contemporary Native art in linear and circular ways. In addition to paintings, the gallery features sculpture, beadwork, silver jewelry and “Made in Oklahoma” health and beauty products.

“I like to see where it’s going,” said Farris about the history of American Indian art. “First of all, I fell in love with images. I like to see who’s doing what now; where is it going to go? Does it come back full circle or is someone going to do something completely different? Like the work that the guys are doing with Apache skateboards – that’s a completely different tangent that they’re going off of. But I still love the really traditional ledger work or even the really traditional two-dimensional stuff. That Oklahoma flat style – I love it. I just like to see what’s next.”

What Farris ultimately wants to achieve is to make Oklahoma a stronger market for Native artists, many of whom have to travel to gallery locations such as Santa Fe, N.M. in order to make a living as an artist.

“I would like to be the venue for artists to make a living selling their work or at least contribute to that living here in Oklahoma. I find it distressing that this state should take interest in what it has to offer, because they do consider themselves ‘Native America,’ and I’m presenting the offerings of Native America.”