Verla Howell will have open studio hours in the Powwow Regalia Studio from 10 am–2 pm, July 28–31.
– Verla Howell
When I work on someone’s outfit, I have good thoughts for them. I won’t work on traditional pieces if I’m not in a good mood.
Cassidy Schultz: What genre of dance is your piece connected to and what’s your relationship/history to it?
Verla Howell: I’m making men’s fancy dance bustles in the style from Oklahoma. I’m Pawnee and Flandreau Santee Sioux, but I prefer the visual appeal of the Oklahoma style as opposed to northern style.
CS: What role does your piece play in the type of dance it’s for/connected with?
VH: The bustle is central to the dance. It’s one of the things that makes fancy dance what it is.
CS: Can you share a little history of how this art form came about?
VH: In the 1800s the non-Natives put on “wild west shows,” of which natives were part. But the crowd wanted a more spectacular dance so the Natives adapted their style. They kept the traditional beat, but made it faster, the steps changed, and there was more whole-body movement. Even now fancy dance is constantly evolving.
CS: What drew you to this form of art?
VH: I work in all types of media, though I’m primarily a painter. Dance with my family has always been a high priority and we make dancewear for each other. Each of us contributes different parts of the dance sets for one another.
CS: What can visitors expect during your time at the DAM?
VH: I’m open to questions and I look forward to talking with people. I’ve put out the layers of the bustle I’m creating so that people can see the progression of my piece.
Cassidy: What’s one thing you’d like to tell people about your art?
VH: I do it for myself, to make something beautiful or to make someone else happy.
CS: Is there something special in your creative process?
VH: When I work on someone’s outfit I have good thoughts for them. I won’t work on traditional pieces if I’m not in a good mood.
CS: What inspires/motivates you?
VH: I want my family to look nice and have fresh pieces. I also like keeping up with what’s current, though sometimes things just jump out at me and eventually find their way into my work.
CS: Do you ever get stuck while working? If so, how do you get unstuck?
VH: Yes, I do sometimes. A change of pace or taking a walk can help. I start with a vague idea of what I want a piece to be, but the design comes out of the process, changing as I work. Remembering that helps if I get stuck.
CS: How did you learn to create this kind of art? Was it passed down or did you learn on your own?
VH: I had a friend as a teenager who was a fancy dancer and his dogs ruined the bustles on his dance set once. He asked me to help him repair the bustles, which is how I got introduced. From there it was experimentation and practice and paying attention to what was current.
CS: Is there anything else you’d like to tell people?
VH: People need to play with their talents, to enjoy themselves, and have fun.