- Associated Press - Sunday, April 15, 2018

TULSA, Okla. (AP) - One could say that artist Rena Detrixhe’s life and art has been well-grounded from the beginning.

“My father was a soil conservationist, and my mother was a potter,” she said. “Perhaps that’s why I’ve been drawn to using natural materials in my art, as dirt and clay have been very much a part of my life.”

Detrixhe, part of the inaugural class of the Tulsa Artist Fellowship, put the finishing touches on her most recent work: a 650-square-foot rectangle of Oklahoma red dirt that has been sifted into a fine powder, spread over the concrete floor of the main exhibit space of Philbrook Downtown, then slowly, painstakingly imprinted with complex patterns to create something that resembles a highly decorative, if monochromatic, area rug.

The piece, titled “Red Dirt Rug,” officially opened to the public as part of the Tulsa Arts District’s First Friday Art Crawl on April 6, the Tulsa World reported .

However, those who have visited Philbrook Downtown, 116 E. M.B. Brady St., in the past three or so weeks have been able to observe Detrixhe as she goes about the methodical process of creating the work.



Detrixhe created her first “Red Dirt Rug” about three years ago, and there have been several iterations of the piece in the years that followed. In 2017, she created the largest rug yet - one that covered 1,000 square feet - as part of the ArtPrize 2017, held in Grand Rapids, Michigan. That piece, “Red Dirt Rug Monument,” won the juried award and the public vote award in its category.

The idea behind the piece arose out of Detrixhe’s contemplation about the history of Oklahoma, the riches the land has produced and the usually man-made calamities it has endured.

“To me, red dirt is as emblematic of Oklahoma as the Rocky Mountains of Colorado,” Detrixhe said. “Whenever I begin work on a piece, I do a great deal of research into the place from which I get my materials. I want to understand as best I can the history of a place, to know what things have taken place on this particular soil.

“And Oklahoma red dirt is incredibly rich, both in minerals and in symbolism,” she said.

Red dirt, for example, was often all that was left once the Dust Bowl - an event many people associate, rightly or wrongly, with Oklahoma - had scraped the top soil into the air. It was out of the same red dirt that Oklahoma drew the oil that for decades was the main industry in the state. And it was upon this same dirt that the conflicts between the American Indian and Anglo settlers were played out in often violent microcosm.

Detrixhe uses pieces of cast-off shoe soles to create the impressions that make the rug’s patterns - from re-creations of the state’s flora and fauna to the stylized oil wells that recur throughout the piece.

“It’s a way of showing the traces we have left on this land,” Detrixhe said. “And the rug has long been an image of opulence, a beautiful decorative work of art that people put on the floor to be walked upon.”

For Detrixhe, making the process of creating “Red Dirt Rug” public is something that has evolved as she made other variations.

“The first one I did, there was no kind of performance element,” she said. “But the big one, because that took me working eight hours a day for three straight weeks, it became a kind of performance - a performance of the making of this particular piece.

“The work itself is very meditative for me. It is slow and intentional, and I want that to come across,” Detrixhe said. “The experience of the slow, careful labor of human being is very effective. It seems to be this visceral thing for the people who watch.

“Besides,” she added, “if all one sees is the finished work, then it is something of a mystery as to how it got there. So to see it being made is a real treat.”

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Information from: Tulsa World, http://www.tulsaworld.com

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