Beliefs of artist Kiowa Burt Patadal, life lessons illustrated through hand-cast works of art

Burt Patadal, Citizen Potawatomi Nation employee and Kiowa artist, interprets many Indigenous cultures in his ceramic work.

Artist Kiowa Burt Patadal has made many ceramic pieces over the past 30 years, providing others with the ability to hold a molded work of art with his hands. In his full-time job, Patadal is the Senior Reintegration and Diversion Advisor for the Tribal Re-entry program of Citizen Potawatomi Nation Workforce Development & Social Services.

It teaches inmates to think about the consequences of their choices and prepares them for a life outside the justice system. Much of his artistic work highlights the same lessons Patadal presents to his clients. He also enjoys interpreting Native American culture in his ceramics.

“I was doing more artwork, but when I found (ceramics) – it was my passion because I love working with colors and I love to put history in it,” said Patadal.

For a creation the size of a large plate, Patadal surrounded an imprint of his hand with images of everyday life. Then he smashed it in the middle – a depiction of abuse, drug addiction, and alcoholism.

“Then you have a crack in your whole life that rips the whole family apart,” he said. “It’s not just about a certain person. It wreaks havoc on the family – cousins, uncles, aunts, mom and dad, grandpa and grandma.

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History and culture

Patadal has always had creative outlets, such as drawing and painting, and studied ceramics as a student at Rose State College in Midwest City, Oklahoma. One day on campus in the late 1990s, he saw a woman building a ceramic cowboy.

“She said, ‘You can do anything. It’s an easy work of art. But you just have to know how to put on the colors, ”so I signed up for this course,” said Patadal.

He quickly discovered the difficulty of using blue with ceramics. Patadal experimented and eventually learned to show off the natural beauty of clay while making his point with different hues. One of his pieces uses greens, blues, yellows and blacks as a call to the viewer to revere nature.

“It’s like the ocean, clouds, darkness, light. And you take care of Mother Earth because she knows what’s going on, ”Patadal said.

Many of his pieces use colors to express emotion or as a small detail explaining a tribal tradition. He started reading about the Potawatomi and the Death Trail around the same time he started making ceramics. The Nation’s story of moving from Kansas to present-day Oklahoma to take lots and the chance to become US citizens also caught his attention.

He created several pieces teaching the history of the tribe. One depicts a Potawatomi warrior wearing a roach, a headdress reserved for warriors of many tribes. Traditionally made from porcupine hair to intimidate enemies, they are now often worn by powwow dancers. Their meaning, significance and use have changed over generations due to cultural disconnection and different traditions in each tribe.

“My grandfather taught me all of this,” Patadal said of Kiowa roach traditions. “When you carry a roach, you have to be a veteran. You can wear a featherless roach if you were on duty. But if you’ve been overseas, you can wear them out. But when you kill someone in battle, you can wear them out.

As a passionate storyteller, Patadal readily recounts their origin or the meaning of his work. Many show the struggle of indigenous peoples, including one with a single tear falling down a man’s face.

“This guy is in a lot of pain; he suffers for his people. You can see in his face, he has come a long way, ”he said.

Money and motivation

Patadal never sells his art; he still trades. He received everything from guns and ammunition to other works of art for one of his ceramic pieces. This rule plays in many of his life mantras.

“For some people, it’s all about the money. It’s not about the money (for me). It is about Creator. You help your neighbor. … We are here to help each other, ”he said.

People sometimes commission Patadal to create a room or a painting for them, and they decide how to exchange goods or services. He tries not to refuse requests.

“In my Kiowa way, if someone asks you to do something, you don’t refuse it,” he said.

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Patadal also teaches reintegration program participants about separation of personal interests and self-reliance.

“You do your artwork as a hobby. … I must have a good job, work and earn money. I really just did this on the side – on a whim, ”he said.

“We have to prepare for tomorrow and the future. You cannot live one day at a time.

However, Patadal knows the importance of a creative outlet such as ceramics. He encourages participants to find something, like art, that they value as a step in their recovery and reintegration process.

“I tell them, (they) say, ‘I can’t do this.’ I said, ‘Wait a minute, wait a minute. Why can’t you do that? I don’t want to hear the word can’t. Walk before you can run.… Prepare for what you can do. “, did he declare.

He hopes to retire from CPN in the future and invest in an oven to create more.

Prayer and the Red Road

Although Patadal began working at the John H. Lilley Correctional Center in Boley, Oklahoma, in 2006, he earned the facility’s Indian Chaplin title earlier this summer.

“(I) just helped a lot of prisoners. They want to talk, and (I) talk to them. And they want to pray, we will pray. If we want to sing an Indian song, we will sing an Indian song, ”Patadal said.

Frank Gregory, the institution’s preacher and chaplain for two years, noticed Patadal’s work and suggested he receive the title. Patadal uses the same experiences that influence and inspire his art to teach Native American inmates about customs, history, and how to walk the Red Route.

“(I try) to talk nicely with them, to find out what is going on in their life and how we can improve it for them. And the only way I know of is to tell them, “Walk the red route”. If you do the right thing in your life and try to help people and get it right, you will be a better person, ”Patadal said.

He holds cleansing pavilions and talking circles for those who want to participate and treats gatherings with respect. It also shows educational films on Aboriginal history.

“Then it’s a light that comes on because most Indians, when you grow up, you know something about your tribe or yourself, what they teach you,” Patadal said; however, he has discovered in recent years, many of them lack these customs and knowledge.

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Patadal also teaches self-control through prayer to the Creator.

“I’ll say, ‘You have to find your triggers – what’s going on, what’s making you angry, what’s making you react – and you have to figure it out. And I said, ‘As it says in the Bible, the truth will set you free,’ ”he explained.

Patadal believes in the interdependence of all beings on Earth. It emphasizes prayer as a time to be humble, thoughtful, and honest about life and these connections.

“If you’re going to do something, do it right because prayer is everything. Prayer will help you a million and one. And helping people will help you. If you don’t help people and stick to yourself, you’re not doing (the creator’s) job, ”Patadal said.

Between his duties as a correctional center and his work, Patadal has less time for ceramics than before. For now, he plans to continue helping those who are incarcerated and to take advantage of his new title of Indian chaplain.

“I’m glad someone finally recognized me, you know?” ” he said.

Visit to learn more about the Citizen Potawatomi Nation’s Workforce Development and Social Services Program.

This article originally appeared on The Shawnee News-Star: Burt Patadal’s Beliefs, Life Lessons Illustrated Through Hand-Cast Artwork

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