Turtle Clan Artist Tells Stories of Oneida Nation Ancestry With Copper Statues

By Zac Schultz | January 12, 2018


Mark Fischer learned to use a welding torch at a very young age. “My grandfather was a blacksmith, and my dad was a pipefitter, and so there was always a torch in the garage.”

Fischer grew up using welding as creative outlet and therapy at the same time. “Any time I have a stressful day or have a bad day, I go and weld something together. It always makes me feel better.”

Fischer uses those skills today to make Native American sculptures out of copper.

Fischer grew up in Milwaukee, where his parents met and married, but part of his roots were farther north.  “My mom’s family moved from Green Bay where the reservation is to Milwaukee and a lot of Natives did because of the jobs. My mother is an Oneida, and my father’s actually a German Jew.”

Fischer and his eight siblings grew up filled with Native American pride. “My mom had us registered at birth. She was well-known on the reservation, and she wanted to make sure that we all knew that we were Native. At the time, it wasn’t too cool to be Native. It was kind of a rough time as a child and picked on and teased a lot, that sort of thing, about being Native American. But it just made us tougher.”

The Oneida trace their lineage back to New York state and the Iroquois Federation.  “I’m from the Turtle Clan; the poets, the prophets, and the artists of our community. I’m a former educator. Every piece that I make tells a story. And that’s how most Native American art is done. It’s not just a beautiful piece. It tells a story.”

Fischer didn’t intend to have a second career as an artist. Two decades ago, he left most of his work in his yard. “On weekends, I’d get people pulling in my driveway, walking through my yard and I’d go out there and wondering what people were doing in my yard going ‘How much is this one?’ thinking I’m a gallery or something. That helped influence me to go into the field because people were stopping and liked it and wanted to purchase it. It was either do this or become a greeter at Wal-Mart. So we had to make it work.”

Mark Fischer and his wife Diane travel the United States selling his work at Native American art shows.  He says other Native Americans appreciate his work, they don’t buy much of it. “Less than 10% go to other Natives. It’s usually to non-Natives that want to learn more about Natives and they like the way I teach it. I think it’s so neat that so many people are interested in the original culture of America. I like beautiful things and I like making beautiful things.  But I’m just as intrigued when someone comes up and falls in love with it.”


George Washington

Mark Fischer tells the tale of the Iroquois people helping George Washington at Valley Forge


Mark Fischer explains a statue he did of a man and woman and the cultural story surrounding marriage.

Zac Schultz

Zac Schultz is a reporter for the “Wisconsin Life” project who thinks three-minute stories and one-line bio descriptions are woefully brief.
2018-02-09T21:26:58+00:00 Tags: , , , |

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