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Academics Fine Arts

CSB and SJU students learn birchbark techniques from an Indigenous master artist

College of Saint Benedict and Saint John’s University students recently participated in a birchbark workshop with Pat Kruse, one of five artists whose creations were on display as part of “Indigenous Survivance” in September and October at the Alice R. Rogers and Target Galleries at SJU.

Kruse, a member of the Red Cliff Band of Ojibwe in Wisconsin and a descendant of the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe in Minnesota, instructed the students on his technique as a birchbark and quill artist. He harvests raw materials from birch trees and porcupine quills to use in his artworks. His contributions on display at Saint John’s included intricately woven wall-mounted panels and a sculptural bassinet, each of which took many months to create.

Students in Professor Steven Lemke’s ART 216 (Introduction to Sculpture) and ART 316 (Intermediate/Advanced Sculpture) courses learned from his methods to create their own pieces. The November workshop was conducted in the sculpture studio of the SJU Art Center.

“I had no idea that birch bark had the ability to be cut like cardboard – or even easier than cardboard,” said Maggie O’Donnell, a CSB student in ART 216 and vice president of the schools’ Art Club, who volunteered to help make the workshop possible.

For CSB senior art major Grace Schneider, the workshop was similarly eye-opening.

“I learned that the Indigenous community doesn’t have many artists doing what Pat is doing,” she said. “Working with birchbark is easier than expected and an art form that should not be forgotten. Having the one-on-one time to work with Pat and him helping us create something important in his life was a special moment.”

Kruse’s work is collected in the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian in Washington DC and the Science Museum of Minnesota in St. Paul, Minnesota.

Funding for the workshop was provided by CSB and SJU Fine Arts Programming through a grant from the Central Minnesota Arts Board and with additional support from the CSB and SJU Indigenous Student Association.

“We are so appreciative to Pat Kruse and Fine Arts Programming for sharing Pat’s knowledge with our students,” said Lemke, who also serves as Environmental Artist-in-Residence at CSB and SJU. “The opportunity to work directly with an artist using local and natural materials from an Indigenous perspective has had a real impact on their understanding of material sourcing, use and reuse. This is an especially important lesson for sculptors, as our studio processes tend to generate a lot of waste.”

For more on the CSB and SJU art department, visit https://www.csbsju.edu/art.

CSB and SJU students create birchbark art with Pat KruseStudents in the art classes of professor Steven Lemke (second from right in second row) recently worked with famed birchbark artist Pat Kruse (standing, fifth from left) at Saint John’s University.

CSB student participates in birchbark workshop

Art major Grace Schneider, a senior at Saint Ben’s, shows a creation she made during a workshop with famed birchbark artist Pat Kruse.