The first of eight exhibitions for the 2022-23 academic year at the College of Saint Benedict and Saint John’s University has opened, and it may be one of the most thought-provoking experiences on either campus in years.
Indigenous Survivance, which highlights the work of several premier Native artists from Minnesota, is on display through Oct. 29 at the Saint John’s Art Center. Travis Zimmerman ’94, an SJU alum who is a site manager at the Mille Lacs Indian Museum and Trading Post for the Minnesota Historical Society, is curator for the show. He has selected five artists and asked them to provide works that depict themes of survival and resistance for the exhibition.
The artists include Pat Kruse, Annette S. Lee, Steve Premo, Jonathan Thunder and Laura Youngbird. Kruse is a birchbark and quill artist, who harvests raw materials from birch trees and porcupine quills to use in his displays, is a member of the Red Cliffe Band of Ojibwe in Wisconsin and a descendant of the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe. Lee, a professor of astronomy and longtime resident of St. Cloud, uses painting, digital storytelling and motion media to explore Indigenous star and earth knowledge. Premo, a member of the Mille Lacs Band, is a painter and graphic designer. Thunder, a 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 particularly timely with the connection Saint John’s and Saint Ben’s has with Indigenous boarding schools, and some of these artists have their own connection to them,” said Becky Pflueger, who manages the galleries at CSB and SJU. “I don’t think anyone is going to want to miss the chance to see these works from artists of significance from all over the state.”
Zimmerman is a member of the Native Nations Task Force that combines representatives from the Saint Benedict’s Monastery, Saint John’s Abbey, as well as faculty, staff and students from CSB, SJU and Saint John’s Preparatory School. The task force is involved in the response to and reckoning with a history where Native Americans were sent to industrial schools and pressured to discard their own culture and convert to Christianity. The Sisters of the Order of Saint Benedict were involved with four such schools, among hundreds across the U.S. and Canada, though that connection has been severed for more than 50 years. In 2021, Saint Benedict’s Monastery issued a formal apology for its role in that history and, for more than a year now, classes and presentations at CSB and SJU have been preceded by a land acknowledgement referring to the boarding school history.
Annette S. Lee, a former astronomy professor at St. Cloud State University, created this painting, titled Praying and Creating, in 2020. It is one of the works that will populate Saint John’s Art Center for the exhibition Indigenous Survivance through Oct. 29. 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 that history will come through 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 running away in the background. According to Zimmerman, Native art in any form is an act of survivance, telling a story of resilience and adaptability. He said the show will illustrate not only how Native people “are still here but that they always will be present and reflected in the fabric of American life.”
An artist reception will be held Sept. 8, and the Indigenous Survivance exhibition is made possible by grants from the CSB and 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 in the Benedicta Arts Center opens Sept. 5. It will feature the work of fiber artists Aspen Mahon and Jennifer Plas. The show is titled New Traditions: Transitions in Fiber Art. There will be a reception for the artists on Sept. 15, and their work will appear until Oct. 15.
Mahon is a nurse at St. Cloud Hospital. Plas has a bachelor’s degree in fine art 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.
“This is going to 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 been experiencing at the time. Their pieces turn their feelings into visual events.”
The rest of the visual arts schedule includes: a show by photographer Xavier Tavera, Oct. 24-Dec. 3 at CSB; fiber art representing Anecdotal Architecture by Liz Miller, Nov. 8-Dec. 16 at SJU; a mixed media display by art faculty members Scott Murphy and Elaine Rutherford, Dec. 12-Feb. 25 at CSB; a show by Minneapolis-based painter Erik Benson, Jan. 17-March 17 at SJU; a juried exhibition of ceramic art by The Color Network, titled Muliebris: Femme Feminine Femininity, March 13-May 8 at CSB; and a celebration of senior art theses, April 1-May 6 at SJU.
The CSB gallery is open from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m., Monday through Saturday. The SJU gallery is open from 2-6 p.m. on Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday, and 2-8 p.m. on Thursday.