When Cherokee Heritage Center Curator Mickel Yantz talks to students about museum pieces, he lets them know that “everything is art, and anyone can do it.”
“Art isn’t just something in a gallery or museum, but it is literally everything, either created by humans or nature,” said Yantz. “Artwork tells the story of our lives; it may be political, social or fun, but it tells us where we are today.”
For more than eight years, Yantz has been curator and enjoys the two annual art shows CHC hosts each year.
“We have so many amazing artists in Oklahoma, and to be able to see their new work and display it for them inspires me in my own work,” Yantz said. “I find helping others truly helps me, too.”
His favorite show so far was called “Generations: Cherokee Language Through Art.”
“We had more than 90 artists create 85 original pieces of artwork using a character of the Cherokee language. We had artists from 5 years old to 72,” he said.
Mediums included wood, basket, photography, paint and even a video.
“There were so many special things woven into that exhibit, I am truly happy with the way it turned out, and luckily, it continues to travel and can be displayed in the future for more people to enjoy,” Yantz said.
He believes Tahlequah offers a wonderful environment for artists.
“I think Tahlequah has a great foundation for artists to get started, especially native artists. With more emphasis on the downtown area and wonderful support from the Cherokee Nation and United Keetoowah Band, native artists have resources to help them out,” he said. “I am honored to play a small role in that with my job at the museum, and hope more spaces like the Cherokee Arts Center continue to grow and support local artists.”
Yantz said more can be done for artists, and taking cues from what Tulsa has accomplished – especially in the Brady District – could be a great inspiration for Tahlequah.
Currently Yantz serves as the chair of the Tahlequah Tourism Council, as a board member for the Cherokee Arts Center, and for the Arts on the Avenue Festival.
“I hope to do as much as I can to support the local arts. It’s my passion,” he said. “I have made art my whole life.”
Yantz attended Fife High School, a small school outside of Tacoma, Wash., where few art classes were offered.
“I mostly spent my time in the music department,” he said. “I lived in the northwest corner of Washington State and was surrounded by beautiful artwork and environments. I was primarily surrounded by native artwork from the many nations in Washington like the Puyallup, Makah and Coast Salish I spent a lot of my time studying their art.”
He didn’t realize it was native art until junior high school.
“I thought everybody did artwork in that style because it was everywhere I was, whether on the coast or Canada,” he said.
In high school, he started looking more into galleries in Seattle and was influenced by the painters and sculptures from around the world.
“I visited more museums to get a better understanding of art and art history,” he said. “Seattle is a wonderful artist town, and I credit it with helping me break many boundaries and rules for what art can be.”
Yantz finds inspiration in all things.
“You never know what may trigger an idea, a new texture, medium or emotion. It is easy to see so much art working in the museum field, but I have found ideas in clouds, shirts, smells or someone’s words,” he said.
Yantz has worked in the museum field for over a decade starting, in Washington State, then moving to Washington, D.C., where he was a museum technician for the Smithsonian Institute.
Awards he’s won include the sculpture competition in the Region Art Show in Springdale, Ark., in 2010, with his very first sculpture; the Tahlequonian Art Show in 2011; and poster artist for the Arts on the Avenue Fine Arts Festival in 2012.
“Winning is a wonderful show of support, but I know when a piece has been completed, when I have accomplished what I set out to achieve,” he said.
Most recently, he was chosen as one of 15 artists to create a mural for the Tulsa Day of the Dead Festival, held at the Living Arts Center in the Brady District. Each artist had three days to paint a mural, which was voted on Nov. 1 for a cash prize. Yantz had a booth at the festival, and sold prints of his Sugar Skull series.
“I have always loved skulls, not in a morbid, creepy way, but I find them very fascinating,” he said. “To try and carve the shape of a skull out of wood or shape it out of clay would take great craftsmanship, but here each of us has one that is perfectly created naturally. Its just one of life’s great creations.”
In the past couple of years, he’s started doing sculptures that combine the textures of glass, wood and metal.
“Life has many layers, and being able to tell a story with multiple layers of mediums, I think, gives artwork literal and symbolic depth. My sculptures take a simple idea like a leaf, and makes it transform in a way we have never seen it before,” Yantz said.
Next among his future endeavors is a new series of sculptures called “Artifacts.”
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