Echoes of heritage: Stevens’ odyssey from Fort Berthold to artistic triumph

MINOT, N.D. – Born on the Fort Berthold Indian Reservation, North Segment, in New Town, a rising artist is making waves in the art world.

Recently awarded the prestigious Waterers grant, Minot State senior Bernadine Stevens, whose roots are deeply embedded in her Indigenous heritage, shares her journey, inspirations, and aspirations. 

Drawn initially to Minot State University as a transfer student for the elementary education program, Stevens found her true calling within the University's vibrant art department. The supportive community within the art department became a significant factor in her decision to switch majors.

"I came to Minot State as a transfer student for the elementary education program but found the art department and switched majors,” she said. “My favorite thing about Minot State is the community in the art department. They always encourage you and know when to push you. I feel well supported by my peers and educators."

Artistry has been a part of Stevens' life since childhood, with early exposure to her mother's paintings and regalia creation. However, it was not until her time at Minot State University that she realized art could be a viable career option.

"Since I was little, I was always ‘artsy’ but did not know it could be a career option until I was at MSU. I grew up watching my mom paint and create regalia as a hobby. At Minot State, I grew to realize that being a studio artist could be a career option for me," she said.

Tribal stories, beadwork, quillwork, and the experiences of being an Indigenous person all find expression in Stevens' art. Each assignment becomes an opportunity to weave her heritage into her creations, allowing for a rich and authentic artistic expression.

"My cultural background impacts and influences my artistry greatly. I try to incorporate as much of my heritage as possible in my assignments," she said.

Bernadine Stevens and fellow student Jyris Jiles (middle, middle photo) were awarded the Waterers grant after being nominated by MSU senior artist Dyana DeCoteau-Dyess (left, middle photo).

Having predominantly worked with MSU Professor of Art Linda Olson, Stevens described her experience within the art department as excellent. Olson, in particular, played a pivotal role in pushing Stevens to develop her skills and consistently encouraged Stevens to incorporate her cultural identity into her art.

"I had a great experience,” Stevens said. “I mostly worked with Linda Olson, who always encouraged and helped me develop my artistic skills. She always pushed me to incorporate my culture in my art.”

Reflecting on past projects, Stevens highlighted her capstone senior show from last May. The exhibition displayed nostalgic memories from her childhood on the reservation, capturing the essence of her upbringing through visual storytelling.

"It is hard to pick one favorite, but I think it would be my capstone senior show from last May," she said.

The Waterers grant is a significant milestone in Stevens' journey. Unlike traditional applications, this grant is nomination-based, recognizing individuals' impact on the community. Stevens and fellow student, Jyris Jiles, were awarded the Waterers grant after being nominated by MSU senior artist Dyana DeCoteau-Dyess. DeCoteau-Dyess earned the grant last year.

"The Waterers grant is nominated based, and you do not apply,” she explained. “It is based on being recognized in your community. I feel greatly honored to have been nominated and chosen as a recipient.”

According to Stevens, the Waterers grant and its acknowledgment of traditional Native American art as fine art, empowers artists to share their stories authentically through their art, amplifying voices in the broader artistic narrative.

"This grant is important and life changing for fellow BIPOC artists. The organization recognizes traditional Native American art as fine art. The grant helps us to share our stories through our art," Stevens said.

Envisioning the future, Stevens sees the grant as a catalyst for her artistic career.

"The grant will allow me to make my home studio more productive,” she said. “Owning my own kiln and pottery wheel would allow me not to rely on community studios that are not in my area.”

In offering advice to young BIPOC artists beginning their journey, Stevens kept it simple.

"Keep creating and sharing your stories," she said.

About Minot State University
Minot State University is a public university dedicated to excellence in education, scholarship, and community engagement achieved through rigorous academic experiences, active learning environments, commitment to public service, and a vibrant campus life.

Published: 01/26/24   

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