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Wendy Ponca seeks to serve during time of crisis

Robert Smith
Wendy Ponca, one of five 2020 Osage County Historical Society Heroes and Legends, is shown here at the Historical Society Museum on Lynn Avenue in Pawhuska. Ponca is an artist and retired art instructor living in Fairfax. She is holding items associated with her recognition from the Historical Society. Robert Smith/Journal-Capital

Kimberly Ann “Wendy” Ponca is one of the five persons chosen this year by the Osage County Historical Society for induction into the ranks of its Heroes and Legends. The Historical Society chooses five persons per year for that honor, and this is the fifth year for the honors program.

Ponca’s professional success as an artist is acknowledged by the wider world, and reflects credit on her Osage heritage, but right now she’s focused on protecting her own health and trying to set a good example.

“Right now I’m making masks, but I’m not selling them,” Ponca told the Journal-Capital last week. In such dire times — by which she meant the COVID-19 pandemic — Ponca said she can’t justify selling the creatively designed protective face masks that she makes. “It’s about making sure everybody’s taken care of.”

Ponca elaborated, emphasizing that she sees her role as an artist during a time of crisis as one of public service.

“It’s not about wealth and prestige,” she said. Ponca, now 60, is the daughter of Carl Ponca, an Osage artist, and Barbara Ann Furr Ponca. She was born in Texas, grew up in Texas and Oklahoma, and later attended the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe, New Mexico, as well as the Kansas City Art Institute. She is also the great-great-granddaughter of Nika Wah She Tunka, an Osage chief.

Ponca has made her career as a fine artist, doing a wide range of work including fashion design, costume design for the theater, Pendleton blanket design, ribbon work, bead work and more. Her creations have been shown in gallerys, but they have also been marketed commercially. She currently has studio space in downtown Fairfax, which she calls the Thunderbird Studios. Additionally, she is a retired art instructor.

Ponca said she visited the Fairfax area often as a youth, celebrating holidays and participating in Osage traditional dances. She eventually returned to make her home in Fairfax when ill family members needed care, she explained.

Ponca said her nomination to be an Osage County Hero and Legend came as a surprise to her.

“It’s absolutely shocking to me. I didn’t know there was such an award,” she said, adding she didn’t know such recognition was available for a retired college professor.

She has also been pleasantly surprised by the interest that people have shown in her COVID-19 protective face masks. Each one is a unique piece of art, and she had made some six dozen of them as of this week, she said.

Ponca initially sent the masks to people or gave them away. When she received questions about paying for them, she suggested that anyone who felt the need to pay for one of her masks should instead trade her a good or service. Receiving a traded good or service for a mask has proven to be much more gratifying than it would be to sell them, she said.

Editor’s Note: This is the first of five feature articles the Journal-Capital will run, during a five-week period, to recognize the 2020 Osage County Historical Society Heroes and Legends.