Museum of Contemporary Native Arts

An Osage Avant – Garde

Ponca has been described as an Osage avant-garde, but also as perpetuating the legacy of Spider Woman, who taught weaving to Osage people.

As a designer, Ponca used innovative new materials in her garments to tell traditional Osage stories. For example, she incorporated Mylar – a synthetic, silver, reflective material used on space shuttles. Traditional Osage stories describe the people’s connection with the sky world, and Osage people believe that their ancestors came from the sky. To use a material such as Mylar – which was connected with the sky and stars – accentuated this relationship with the sky world.

Ponca also used body art and feathers in her fashion shows and photo shoots to convey a sense of Native beauty. Ponca stated that the body art and feathers “changes you on the inside, your intellect, being. It’s a powerful thing, it changes you emotionally.” Her use of these forms of body adornment directly related to her ideas concerning garments and accessories: what you wear should convey confidence and a strong connection to your cultural roots.

 Mylar fashion designs and body art by Wendy Ponca, ca. 1996. Allan Houser Art Park, MoCNA, Santa Fe. IAIA Archives.

“Heaven and Hearth” blanket by Wendy Ponca (Osage), ca. 1998. Cotton fabric and beads. MoCNA. OS-50.