Charles Pratt

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Native American Artist Charles Pratt.
Native American Artist Charles Pratt.
"Cowboy and Indians Chess Set" by Charles Pratt.

Renowned Native American artist Charles Pratt dies

Brandy McDonnell by BRANDY MCDONNELL Published: Sat, July 15, 2017 3:06 PM Updated: Sat, July 15, 2017 3:18 PM

Celebrated American Indian artist Charles Pratt dies

After selling a couple of paintings early in his artistic career, Charles Pratt took a job at an Oklahoma City auto body shop.

“That’s where he became familiar with metal, and he started working metal. … I think some of the first things he ever did, he gathered up silver-plated knives and forks and spoons. And he created things out of those forks and spoons – owls and hawks and roadrunners and things like that – and he did that for quite a while. Then he started making shields,” recalled his brother and fellow artist Harvey Pratt.

“They called him the little wizard. … He did a lot of everything. He was never afraid to try anything.”

An award-winning, self-taught Native American sculptor and metalsmith, Charles Pratt died Wednesday at his home in El Reno from complications of a decades-long battle with Parkinson’s disease. He was 79.

“The last couple of months, he was in bad shape. He was suffering physically and mentally. When you are so talented the way he was, and he couldn’t do anything in the last year, I think he suffered more by that than anything because he couldn’t create,” Harvey Pratt said.

Distinguished family

One of seven siblings, Charles Pratt was born Nov. 8, 1937, in Concho, to Oscar Noble Pratt, who was Cheyenne and Arapaho, and Anna Guerrier Pratt Shadlow, who was Cheyenne and Sioux. A noted Cheyenne storyteller, his mother was named 1987 National Indian Woman of the Year and 1991 Oklahoma Indian Mother of the Year.

“It’s a very distinguished family,” said author Jo Ann Kessel, whose book “Piavinnia: The Bent-Guerrier Connection,” about Shadlow was a 2015 finalist for an Oklahoma Book Award. “He was continuing a legacy that had been passed down to him … from his mother and even further back.”

Growing up in El Reno, Charles Pratt’s creative bent was evident from an early age.

“He couldn’t have been 12 years old, and he made a tandem bike out of scraps. Instead of handlebars he put a steering wheel on it. And him and our brother Otto rode that thing around, and other kids would see it and want to ride with him,” Harvey Pratt recalled.

“He decided he wanted a bullwhip one time, so he made one. … He was always doing stuff like that, building things and doing stuff and listening to his grandpa and his stories. We had a rich background in stories from my mother and her dad and her aunt and those old people. We had a whole series of old stories and tales, and so that’s kind of what we developed into the art.”

Both brothers were schooled at St. Patrick's Indian Mission in Anadarko, and Charles Pratt also attended public schools in Shawnee and Oklahoma City.

“I was younger than him, and schoolteachers would say, ‘Are you Charlie Pratt’s little brother?’ and I’d say ‘Yes, ma’am.’ She’d say, ‘Are you as talented as he is?’ And my answer was, ‘Well, I guess I am. I like to draw.’ That’s kind of the way that I followed him. So he actually inspired me in a lot of ways,” Harvey Pratt said.

He said his brother was always willing to try a new venture. Charles Pratt opened and ran a Native American gift shop and gallery in Oklahoma City, until he decided to learn foundry work. He later opened his own foundry but closed it when he wanted to create more art.

“He truly was a treasure for Native American artists. He inspired a lot of people, trained a lot of people in the techniques and color and how to do things,” Harvey Pratt said. “He was such good friends with so many people.”

Inspirational artist

Charles Pratt’s daughter, Laketa Pratt, is one of the artists he trained and inspired. In the 1980s, when she was in her 20s, she said her dad had a studio in Oklahoma City where she was able to learn and create alongside him.

“What I learned about stone carving and the welding was from my dad. … I took a couple of art classes in high school, but it was nothing like what my dad could teach me,” said Laketa Pratt, who creates American Indian dolls and beadwork.

“The first thing he showed me, he goes, ‘I’m going to show you how to cut these stones by hand. You’re going to do this manually, so you’ll appreciate these tools.’ ‘OK.’ Man, he had me sawing rocks with a saw that you would cut a log with, and he said, ‘Don’t stop ‘til you get it done.’ Oh my God, I was sweating in his shop. … He goes, ‘Now I’m going to show you how you’re going to slice those rocks with a band saw,’ so I learned the difference and I appreciated all his tools.”

The Indian Arts and Crafts Association named Charles Pratt its artist of the year in 1985 and 2004, and he received its lifetime achievement honor in 2002. He earned more than 400 awards during his long artistic career, and his work is in private and public collections around the world.

“My dad was a little short man, but he made big sculptures. … He was trying to make up for a little bit of height there,” his daughter said with a laugh. “But he also made little small stuff like jewelry, and that’s where I get my detailing from is him. When I’m doing my dolls, I put a lot detail into them with these really, really small beads that no one else uses.”

One of his sculptures was on view in the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building during the 1995 bombing. The wood and metal piece survived and is displayed in the administrative offices of the Oklahoma City National Memorial.

Although he lived for many years in Santa Fe and Gallup, New Mexico, Charles Pratt maintained strong ties to his home state’s American Indian art community, especially through the Red Earth Festival. He was named the Red Earth Honored One in 2000.

“Our Red Earth family was deeply saddened when we learned of the passing of our dear friend Charlie Pratt. He was truly an inspiration to artists throughout the country, and one of our most ardent supporters … participating in the Red Earth Festival since its inception in 1987,” said Teri Stanek, president of the Red Earth board of directors, in a statement.

When one of her colorfully beaded handmade dolls won the Red Earth Grand Award in 2013, Laketa Pratt said her dad got word so quickly that he phoned her before she could call him.

“He was calling me, saying, ‘Hey, I heard you won the best of show!’ I could tell he was proud,” she said. “Growing up, I thought ‘when I get old enough, I want to do the same thing,’ because he always made it look really fabulous and fun. … It was fun work to him, and he was always thinking of something to make.”

Charles Pratt is survived by two of his brothers, Harvey Pratt and Otto Pratt; his daughters, Laketa Pratt and Della Pratt; his son, Gayther “Choppa” Pratt; five grandchildren; and five great-grandchildren.

A wake is scheduled for 7 p.m. Sunday and funeral services at noon Monday, both at Huber-Benson Funeral Home in El Reno. He will be buried in Geary, the small town named for one of his ancestors, Edmund Guerrier.

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Osage Warrior in the Enemy Camp by Sculptor John Free. Seeking to attain his tribe's highest war honor by touching his enemy. This action among indigenous peoples is called "Counting Coup".
Osage Warrior in the Enemy Camp by Sculptor John Free. “Osage Warrior in the Enemy Camp” is a bronze created by Osage Artist John Free. The bronze, eight feet high and twelve feet long) was enlarged to 1-1/4 life size through the efforts of John Free of the Bronze Horse foundry in Pawhuska and Hugh Pickens. Pictured (L-R): Hugh Pickens, Executive Director of Pickens Museum and Principal Chief Geoffrey Standing Bear of the Osage Nation.
Three Faces of the Pioneer Woman by Artist Daniel Pickens. “Three Faces of the Pioneer Woman” is a mural painted by fine artist Daniel Pickens. Daniel was born in Lima, Peru in 1974 and is currently living in Stockholm, Sweden. This mural is at our Ponca City location.
Three Faces of the Pioneer Woman by Artist Daniel Pickens. Our mural "The Three Faces of the Pioneer Woman" is located in City Central at our Ponca City location.
Doctor Pickens Museum of Turquoise Jewelry and Art. Pickens Museum displays art works at NOC Tonkawa campus. Pictured (L-R): Dr. Cheryl Evans, NOC President, Hugh Pickens, Executive Director of Pickens Museum, and Sheri Snyder, NOC Vice President for Development and Community Relations. (photo by John Pickard/Northern Oklahoma College) This art is at our Tonkawa location
Native American Artist Yatika Starr Fields Completes Mural for Pickens Museum.
The World's Largest Naja. Future location of Pickens Museum on Route 60 and "U" Street West of Ponca City
Architectural Renderings of Pickens Museum.
Display of Turquoise Jewelry.
"Red Man" by Native American Artist Fritz Scholder. Pickens Museum Director Hugh Pickens on right.
Native American Jewelry Artist Tonya Rafael with a silver frame she created to honor my wife Sr. S.J. Pickens. My wife and Tonya worked together over the years creating new jewelry art pieces. My wife had an eye for color and would often design a spectacular piece and ask Tonya to execute it for her. A skilled silversmith, Tonya would sometimes stay in our guest house, set up a workshop, and work for days at a time on a Squash Blossom, Bolo, or Bracelet my wife commissioned. The piece is a silver picture frame that Tonya cut out of thick silver plate. Around the edge of the picture frame are 95 small turquoise stones. In the top is a large spiny oyster stone in the shape of a heart. The frame contains a photo that Tonya took of my wife a few years ago. Dr. Pickens is wearing one of her favorite outfits and if you look closely you can see a special squash blossom and necklace that Tonya created for my wife. In the bottom of the frame is an inscription.
Native American Artist Jolene Bird. Jolene Bird is an accomplished artist who learned her craft from her grandfather over 20 years ago. Jolene makes her jewelry in the tradition of the Santo Domingo Pueblo in New Mexico. This is a Fender Stratocaster guitar onto which Jolene has attached pieces of Kingman and Sonoran Turquoise highlighted with Jet. The stars are in Abalone, Mother of Pearl, Pipestone, Yellow Serpentine, and Spiny Oyster. The artistry in this piece is simply breathtaking and has to be seen to be believed. Consider that this is a three dimensional mosaic, a three dimensional jigsaw puzzle if you will. Jolene told me that each individual piece of turquoise had to be cut, shaped, and ground down to fit perfectly with the other pieces. Each individual piece probably took six to eight hours to produce and there are literally hundreds of pieces covering the guitar.
Painting by Peruvian Artist Josue Sanchez. Photo Credit: Hugh Pickens Pickens Museum

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