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“In Our Own Words: Native Impressions -- Portrait of Leigh Jeanotte"

by Daniel A Heyman

RI

“In Our Own Words: Native Impressions -- Portrait of Leigh Jeanotte" 

I am seeking financial help to produce an extra-large woodblock reduction print, 54” x 35” (edition of 20) of Leigh Jeanotte, member of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa, and a second print of matching size designed by Lucy Ganje, of text taken from an interview we did June 30, 2015 in Grand Forks, ND.

For over a decade, I have used my art to help the public listen to those whose lives have been central in the cross-roads of our culture, but whose voices have been muffled and discredited. I have interviewed and made portraits of Iraqi torture victims from Abu Ghraib; of veterans who survived military sexual assault; of African American men from Philadelphia who spent considerable time in prison during their teen age years; of victims of “collateral damage” in the war in Iraq and of first generation immigrants who landed in the US after their homelands were torn apart from war and poverty. Many of these works have been seen across the US, and I hope you have had a chance to see some of them.  

In June, I traveled to North Dakota to listen to and draw Native American people on 4 Indian reservations. I heard stories of lives and communities that have endured centuries of racist public policy and continue to do so, as well as stories of personal triumph and grief. I heard about what Indian life is today, and I created 12 portraits incorporating the words I heard. I hope that these portraits will make these personal histories accessible to a larger audience. I worked with Lucy Ganje, Professor of Graphic Design at the University of North Dakota (UND), who is using each sitter’s words to create a companion text print, and Kim Fink, Director of Sundog Multiples and Professor of Printmaking at UND.

When we returned to Grand Forks we met Leigh Jeanotte, a national leader in Indian higher education who was our link to the Indian community having used his connections to set up our interviews. Leigh has worked hard for 40 years supporting American Indian students as they study at UND and earn professional degrees, working as a bridge between native culture and the contemporary professional world. He created programs that directly improved Indian lives, and I immediately knew that I had to make a large portrait of Leigh to finish the series and give it visual gravitas. A member of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa, Leigh generously sat for Lucy and me on June 30, talking about his own life and the struggles of Native Americans today. The design I drew is attached to this proposal.

Leigh’s life encapsulates so many lives; he grew up poor on a reservation in a large family, he saw his siblings go off at early ages to boarding schools seeing them only once a year, he managed to make his way to college and a graduate degree, and became an important Indian leader in the northern plains. This print measuring 54” x 35” will introduce the portfolio wherever it is shown. The smaller prints of the portfolio are funded by grants from UND and Princeton University, where I teach. The portrait of Leigh is wholly unfunded, and I am coming to you requesting support for the production of this print and its accompanying text panel.

We are commissioning a paper maker who will incorporate flax fiber into the paper, as flax is native to the northern plains, and will give the paper a connection to the region, reflecting the connection our sitters feel towards this land. Kim, Lucy and I will print these two works at Sundog Multiples in Grand Forks. The technique we will use for the portrait is called reduction. After each layer of color is printed by Kim, I will re-carve the woodblock for the next layer’s printing, thereby “reducing” the block. It is an intense two-step process, and it will be the largest reduction print I have ever produced.

A Hatchfund Grant will enable us to purchase the special paper and other materials for the print run, as well as pay for my travel expenses and for administrative costs and artist fees. Your donation will directly aid us in this project; in fact, without your help this project simply cannot and will not happen.

Once printed the portrait of Leigh will be shown at Sarah Lawrence College as well as the Arts Center of Jamestown, ND, and the North Dakota Museum of Art. The print will also be given to the Turtle Mountain Tribal College, to Leigh Jeanotte, and to the University of North Dakota Native American Affairs Program. Though nothing is yet scheduled, I am confident we will be able to show the print and portfolio more broadly around the nation.

This project working with American Indian people has given me the opportunity to learn about some of the nations that have lived here for thousands of years. As one of the participants said about her relationship to this land, “You talk about tradition. Which tradition? My tradition goes way back. It goes back to when the rocks talked.”

Please help me bring the voice of Leigh Jeanotte out of North Dakota in this print project.

 

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