Camanche artist works to preserve rich history

By Scott Rains
Lawton, Oklahoma (AP) May 2010

For most artists, copying another artist’s work could be considered blasphemy.

But for a special project commissioned by the Comanche National Museum and Cultural Center, Tim Saupitty has found that recreating his uncle’s work by way of a rare medium has evolved into a way for him to help preserve a rich historical record.

Saupitty created a replica of a Nazi armored fighting vehicle flag that his grandmother’s brother, Larry Saupitty, used to record his World War II journey through Europe and history as one of the legendary Comanche Code Talkers.

“It’s an honor to do it, to show our people, as well as the public, some history our history,” Tim Saupitty said.

The artist painstakingly brush-stroked lettering to match his grand-uncle’s writing, rarely looking up from the task at hand while speaking. Using a mosaic of scale photos taken of the original banner, the artist focused on the details.

 

Tim Saupitty is a well-known Comanche artist who has been at his craft full time for the past 17 or 18 years. Art is who he is, he said. You could say it’s in his blood his father, Kenneth is an artist, as was Larry Saupitty. “He (Larry Saupitty) was a prolific artist, as well,” Phyllis Wahahrockah-Tasi, museum director, said of the code talker. “This is a form of artwork on this flag.” “Tim is the most appropriate person for this project to get the job done and to keep it within the Saupitty family,” she said.

Tim Saupitty honed his artist’s skills as the “baby” of the Comanche Gallery of Art group in the 1980s artists that included Leonard Riddles, Cynthia Clay, Doc Tate Nevaquaya, Woogie Watchetaker and Wakeah Bradley.

“That’s a whole world of Indian art I studied under,” Tim Saupitty said. “I was the youngest member. I got a good insight into Comanche art and history.”

“It was great.”

He smiled in recollection: “What an experience.”

The artist has sold paintings to collectors for decades and has been commissioned for freelance work, such as the flag project. He also painted the original images used to adorn the walls of Comanche Signs, as well as those used to adorn the tribe’s newest bus, unveiled last summer. “I used to do a lot of shows around the U.S.; now I’m staying around home,” the Lawton-based artist said.

Tim Saupitty is known for his works depicting the warrior and mystical elements of Southern Plains Indian culture. While the latest project could be considered more typographical than expressive, he sees the project as an extension of what he generally does “It’s a different avenue of the same street.”

The canvas for the project is made from nylon material. The first step was to find an exact replica of the Nazi armored fighting vehicle flag used by the code talker the new flag was ordered from a company in Germany.

“You see that this flag wasn’t easy to acquire,” Wahahrockah-Tasi said. “The original is with the family. This wouldn’t be possible without the generosity of Vivian Saupitty Gooday.”

Gooday loaned the original flag to the museum for display during its code talker exhibit in 2008. From the response by visitors, plus the realization of the value of the artifact’s history, the museum director began to plan the project. The original flag was repeatedly photocopied so that when each piece was put in place it created a scale template of the original for Tim Saupitty to work with. Wahahrockah-Tasi said it has taken more than a year to work out the project’s logistics, find the materials and commission Tim Saupitty for the job.

As with any project, all the planning in the world can’t substitute for improvisation once circumstances arrive. The new flag is a foot smaller in length than the original cotton/canvas version. And some of the writing on the original flag is illegible due to its age and condition, Tim Saupitty said.

Through the month of February, Tim Saupitty worked on the project with the zeal of a one who knows the importance of the job at hand. Each careful stroke of acrylic paint on nylon was brushed with a focus toward a bigger picture, he said.

“Artists are historians a little,” Tim Saupitty said. “We preserve history in our art work.”

While the art on the German flag is in written form, its contents aren’t so far removed from the ledger-style histories recorded by Southern Plains tribes during the nomadic days. Warriors’ feats in battle, along with important moments in tribal history, were recorded via pictures painted on buckskin hides and tepee casings.

The artist credits the museum with preserving the tribe’s culture by presenting history through the eyes and works of Comanche artists.

“It’s priceless, man,” Tim Saupitty said. “One day, it could’ve all been lost.”

 

 

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