Indigenous Artists Populate 1st Visual Arts Exhibit of ’22-23 at CSB and SJU – CSB+SJU

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The first of eight exhibitions of the 2022-2023 academic year at the College of Saint Benedict and Saint John’s University has opened, and it is perhaps one of the most thought-provoking experiences on either other campus for years.

The Indigenous Survival exhibit, which highlights the work of several of Minnesota’s leading Indigenous artists, is on display until October 29 at the Saint John’s Art Center. Travis Zimmerman ’94, an SJU alumnus who is a site manager at the Mille Lacs Indian Museum and Trading Post for the Minnesota Historical Society, serves as the exhibit’s curator. He selected five artists and asked them to provide works illustrating the themes of survival and resistance for the exhibition.

Artists include Pat Kruse, Annette S. Lee, Steve Premo, Jonathan Thunder and Laura Youngbird. Kruse is a birch bark and quill artist, who harvests raw materials from birch trees and porcupine quills for use in his exhibits, is a member of the Red Cliffe Band of Ojibwe in Wisconsin and a descendant of the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe. Lee, professor of astronomy and longtime resident of St. Cloud, uses painting, digital storytelling, and movement media to explore Indigenous knowledge of stars and earth. Premo, member of the Mille Lacs Band, is a painter and graphic designer. Thunder, painter and digital artist, is a member of the Red Lake Band of Ojibwe. And Youngbird, a member of the Minnesota Chippewa, Grand Portage Band, is a mixed media artist who combines drawing and painting.

“It’s especially timely with the connection between Saint John’s and Saint Ben’s with residential schools, and some of these artists have their own connection to them,” said Becky Pflueger, who manages the CSB and SJU galleries. “I don’t think anyone wants to miss the opportunity to see these works by important artists from across the state.”

Zimmerman is a member of the Indigenous Nations Task Force which includes representatives from St. Benedict’s Monastery, St. John’s Abbey, as well as faculty, staff and students from CSB, SJU and the St. John’s Preparatory School. The task force is involved in responding to and addressing a history where Native Americans were sent to industrial schools and pressured to abandon their own culture and convert to Christianity. The Sisters of the Order of St. Benedict were involved in four of these schools, among hundreds in the United States and Canada, although this link had been broken for more than 50 years. In 2021, St. Benedict Monastery issued a formal apology for its role in this story and, for over a year now, classes and presentations to the CSB and SJU have been preceded by a land acknowledgment referencing to the history of the boarding school.

Annette S. Lee, a former professor of astronomy at St. Cloud State University, created this painting, titled Pray and Create, in 2020. It is one of the works that will populate the Art Center of Saint John for the Aboriginal Survival exhibition until October 29th. There will be eight different exhibitions this academic year, four at Saint John’s University and four at the Benedict and Dorothy Gorecki Gallery in the Benedicta Arts Center at the College of Saint Benedict.

The effects of this history will manifest in some of the art presented. For example, one painting depicts a monk using a spear to stab a Native American crucified on a cross, with Jesus fleeing in the background. According to Zimmerman, Indigenous art in all its forms is an act of survival, telling a story of resilience and adaptability. He said the show will not only illustrate how Native Americans “are still here, but will always be present and reflected in the fabric of American life.”

An artists’ reception will be held on September 8, and the Native Survival exhibit is made possible by grants from CSB and the SJU Indigenous Student Association, the Initiative for Native Nation Relations, and the Central Minnesota Arts Board.

The first show of the season at the Benedict and Dorothy Gorecki Gallery at the Benedicta Arts Center opens September 5. It will feature the work of fiber artists Aspen Mahon and Jennifer Plas. The show is called New Traditions: Transitions in Textile Art. There will be a reception for the artists on September 15 and their works will be presented until October 15.

Mahon is a nurse at St. Cloud’s Hospital. Plas holds a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from St. Cloud State. Together they blur the line between art and craft, bringing a question of utility to their pieces. Is art made to be used or simply observed? They would suggest both.

“It will be their first show,” Pflueger said. “Some of their creations are wearable. You might see dyed yarn used in a blanket, where different colors represent different moods they may have felt at the time. Their pieces transform their feelings into visual events.

The rest of the visual arts program includes: a show by photographer Xavier Tavera, from Oct. 24 to Dec. 24. 3 at CSB; fiber art depicting anecdotal architecture by Liz Miller, Nov. 8-Dec. 16 at the SJU; a mixed media exhibit by art faculty members Scott Murphy and Elaine Rutherford, December 12-February 12. 25 at CSB; a show by Minneapolis-based painter Erik Benson, Jan. 17-March 17 at SJU; a ceramic art juried exhibition by The Color Network, titled Muliebris: Femme Feminine Femininity, from March 13 to May 8 at CSB; and a Senior Art Thesis Celebration, April 1 through May 6 at SJU.

The CSB gallery is open from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m., Monday to Saturday. The SJU gallery is open from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. on Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday and from 2 p.m. to 8 p.m. on Thursday.

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