Owners of South Dakota gallery for Indian artists retiring

By Beth Wischmeyer
Sioux Falls, South Dakota (AP) September 2010

The retirement plans of the owners of Prairie Star Gallery in Sioux Falls could stifle a vital outlet for Native American artists in South Dakota.

But the possible closure is creating opportunity at the Washington Pavilion, where officials are in talks with Prairie Star owners Linda and John Boyd to set up a museum and gallery for Native American goods.

The Pavilion already has plans to create a permanent Native American gallery collection this fall and a store could be included in the mix, said Pavilion Executive Director Larry Toll. His organization has applied for a grant from the South Dakota Community Foundation to hire a museum store expert to help set up that enterprise.

Toll said the Pavilion wants Linda Boyd to help the facility further develop the exhibit's interpretive qualities.

“(Linda) has such great resources and ties to the Native American community that any conversation with her, and if we were able to get her here working with us, it would really take us the next step forward,” he said.

For almost 15 years, the Prairie Star Gallery has provided a place for the public to view, buy and learn about Native American art. It also has helped boost the income for many people living on poverty-stricken reservations.

The gallery features art ranging from beadwork to sculptures, along with ceremonial items such as drums and rattles. Hides also are included among the inventory because they always have been a part of the Lakota culture, Linda Boyd said.

A scenario in which the Pavilion continues the mission of promoting Native art would be a natural, Boyd said.

“We talk about the Pavilion, because the Pavilion has museum status, it has archives in the basement that are climactically controlled, it has galleries that aren't always used,” Boyd said. “We are going first to the place that might make the most sense.”

Native artists said the Boyds' exit from the area's art scene would leave a void. The Boyds are known for dealing fairly with artists, they said.

Marty Two Bulls, a Rapid City native who also has lived in Sioux Falls, does painting and sculpting. He said that in the Sioux Falls area, he sells his artwork almost exclusively to the Boyds.

“(Linda is) really a definite resource there. She's really an asset to the community and to the artists,” Two Bulls said. “All too often in this field, the Native American artist is taken advantage of. Even people who spend 20 hours on a piece are forced to sell it for $20 to $30. Linda's gallery, she pays well, pays what the work is worth. It's kind of a rarity around South Dakota.”

JoAnne Bird of Toronto has been doing sculpting and impressionistic art for about 40 years. Her work also is sold at Prairie Star.

“To me, Linda has been really honest, and you can trust her,” Bird said. “She promotes the artists very well.”

The Boyds believe so strongly in helping reservations and promoting Native American art that the couple has mortgaged their home and paid it back three times through the years to keep the gallery going.

Linda Boyd said they started by buying as much art as they could, working with about 50 families. With that art, the couple opened their first gallery in 1997. In 2003, they moved downtown.

Unlike other consignors, they paid the sellers up front what the piece was worth, rather than making them wait until the piece was sold.

“We had to prove to ourselves and also to really the Native people that we respected them enough, first of all, to buy their art up front and then to work to sell it,” Boyd said.

The list of artists whose work the Boyds sell has grown to about 1,000 families from South Dakota and other Northern Plains tribes. Linda Boyd said there have been times when selling a few pieces of artwork meant a family could remain financially stable.

“The poverty level on the reservations in South Dakota is the worst poverty level in the country,” Boyd said. “It's Third World. My husband and I decided that – because we were lucky and were able to get education and things – that we should, if we could, help the reservation people as much as possible.”

Buying pieces such as beadwork and quillwork also help keep those art forms alive, she said.

“We wanted the grandparents to teach the grandchildren,” Boyd said. “They'd sell a pair of moccasins to us, then go buy beads to teach the grandchildren. That's what it's all about. Big galleries have a wall of art of one artist. In this gallery, everyone is mixed together to show the life ways of the Lakota, Dakota, Nakota.”

Teaching people about the pieces they buy and their significance in Native American culture helps ensure that the stories told for hundreds of years get passed on, Boyd said.

“We're probably one of the most innovative, contemporary galleries in the country in that if someone comes in, we teach them about the turtle shell and what it means, and that teaching goes back thousands of years,” Boyd said.

Keeping the education component alive is important to the Pavilion as well.

“That is our goal, to do that,” Toll said. “Linda is such as expert that I think with her help, we can get there. But we will have to have her help to do that, that's for sure.”