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Canku Ota

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(Many Paths)

An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America


April 19, 2003 - Issue 85


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Pow-wow Poster Artist Draws Inspiration from His Past

by Alison Pride Bozeman Daily Chronicle
credits: Montana State Native American Studies Department

Beside the stove in a one-cook kitchen, Ken Morsette sets up his easel and paints.

The 32-year-old Chippewa Cree from Rocky Boy Indian Reservation near Havre first picked up a paint brush at 17, encouraged by a high school teacher that often let him skip classes to paint.

This year, one of Morsette's originals was used for the poster for the annual American Indian Club Pow Wow, to be held at Montana State University this Friday and Saturday.

His personal feelings about the world are his inspiration.

"When I'm feeling it in me, I like to work fast," Morsette says, explaining his preference for acrylics.

His subjects are primarily Native Americans and animals, but with a contemporary twist, according to Nate St. Pierre, adjunct assistant professor in Native American Studies at MSU.

"Much of his subject matter and images represent traditional tribal cultures and yet, in the final picture, he uses contemporary techniques in terms of painting style and overall presentation," St. Pierre says.

Often, Morsette's backgrounds are evocative of rays of light, directing the viewer's eyes to the main image.

It's a departure from the widely popular and romanticized Native American art that depicts Indians in historical settings, surrounded by horses or the teepee encampment, St. Pierre says.

Morsette's background has provided him with plenty of subject matter.

His father was a criminal investigator for the Bureau of Indian Affairs and moved the family every two years or so to reservations across Montana and North and South Dakota.

In 1985, the family settled in Browning, where Morsette graduated from high school. After five years spent in the U.S. Army as a graphic artist, designing everything from reports to Christmas cards, he returned to Montana.

"I couldn't find a job," he says.

He worked construction and went to college to get an associate's degree in computer science.

After a short time back on the reservation, Morsette arrived in Bozeman with a wife and 6-week-old daughter and a desire to further his education.

The marriage didn't survive, but Morsette's daughter lives with him part time and even paints beside him on her own easel in the kitchen.

"She's going to be a bigger artist than me. She's been painting since she was 2," he says, gesturing to the colorful watercolors taped to the wall in the kitchen.

Because of cuts in child care and education funding, Morsette worries he might have to return to construction to make ends meet.

This year, he gave away original paintings because he couldn't afford Christmas presents.

"I believe, when I do these things, they're going to come back," he says. "This past year, they're really starting to come back."

One of his plans after graduation is to return to Rocky Boy Indian Reservation and set up a 24-hour art studio for the kids, to offer them support for their art and show them there's more out there than the reservation.

"I'm not honestly in it for the money. If I could just have a big studio and a studio for the kids, a decent house and my daughter taken care of, I don't care if I'm a millionaire. Just to be able to paint, that's happiness to me," he says.

28th Annual Montana State University - Bozeman American Indian Club Pow Wow poster by Ken Morsette

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