‘In Our Own Words: Native Impressions’ opens April 3

In Our Own Words: Native Impressions  opens at the North Dakota Museum of Art April 3 at 4 p.m. and continues through July 10.

Heyman_00_Title_Page_OKWho are contemporary American Indian people in North Dakota? What are their stories? Printmaker Daniel Heyman came to North Dakota from Princeton University determined to ask those questions. His invitation came from two UND faculty, printmaker Kim Fink and graphic designer Lucy Ganje. Fink is the Founding Director of Sundog Multiples, a student-focused print shop at the University. Accompanied by Leigh Jeanotte, a member of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa and Director of UND’s American Indian Student Services, the three artists set out for North Dakota’s Reservations. Working through the tribal colleges, they began their interviews.

The Tribal Colleges from the following Reservations collaborated: the Spirit Lake Dakota Sioux Nation; Turtle Mountain Indian Reservation, home of the Chippewa, Cree and Métis; Three Affiliated Tribes of Fort Berthold, home of the Mandan, Hidatsa, and Arikara Nations; and the Lakota Sioux Standing Rock Reservation.

Their final work, “Native Impressions” includes both portraits and text from a range of people living on North Dakota’s four reservations including business people, farmers, ranchers, teachers, politicians, tribal leaders, and community members. All three artists and a number of North Dakota Native people involved in the Native Impressions project will speak at the opening.

Once the subjects had been chosen, Heyman quickly drew their images and then carved them into wood to produce large-scale, reduction color woodcut portraits of Native people: one for each subject, three from each reservation, all 25.5 x 19.5 inches. While Heyman made the drawings, Lucy Ganje interviewed the sitters, collecting their oral histories, which she transcribed, edited, designed and typeset into accompanying broadsides. Kim Fink as publisher and master printer, oversaw the production. Colorist Heyman’s equal prowess as a printer, and Ganje’s expertise in design and typography, propelled the three to work hand-in-hand as true collaborators.

The individual prints tell the story of a people whose historic cultures were challenged and sometimes overrun by others. In the latter years of the 20th century, younger generations began the work of reclaiming what had been. It is their stories, or Native Impressions, that fly under banners of sadness, of determination, of loss, to reverberate through the broadsides: “That Language (When you’re given language, you speak language. You’re not lost. It touches you. It connects you to something else. It’s a powerful tool.”).

The history of a people is summarized in a portrait, a few words. I Am Not A Politician; I Served My One Term. We Don’t Buy Green Bananas. My Parents Had No Parenting. We Burn All of Their Things. If Your Telephone Rings. That Place Doesn’t Exist Anymore. They Unearthed 7 Bodies. We Are Only Remnants. They Would Speak in Dakota. We Can Be Self Sufficient. It Helped Us To Breathe.

In gratitude to Leigh Jeanotte for opening doors on the Reservations and in recognition of his years of work with American Indian students at UND, the artists decided to produce his portrait as well. It is an extra-large woodblock reduction print, 54 x 35 inches, made in an edition of 20. The accompanying broadside (54 x 17.5 inches) draws from his oral interview conducted by Ganje while Heyman drew Jeanotte’s portrait.

Publisher Kim Fink propelled the project along and directed its printing by Sundog Multiples in an edition of 16 on Japanese Okwara paper and a second edition of 9 on Nicole Donnely’s handmade paper (85% mulberry and 15% native North Dakota flax).

This project was funded through a Summer Faculty Research Grant from Princeton University and a 2014 Arts and Humanities Scholarship Initiative grant provided by the College of Arts and Sciences at the University of North Dakota, the Myers Foundations, and UND’s Department of Art and Design. The artists raised additional money to complete their work through Hatchfund.

The North Dakota Museum of Art is located on the campus of the University of North Dakota. By legislative act, it serves as the official State Art Gallery. “In Our Own Words: Native Impressions” will travel to Spirit Lake’s Cankdeska Cikana Community College after which it will tour to a dozen sites in North Dakota through the Museum’s Rural Arts Initiative. Call the Museum to become part of the tour.

— North Dakota Museum of Art, 777.4195, ndmoa@ndmoa.com