Laura Heit-Youngbird completed her BS, BFA and MA from Minnesota State University Moorhead and currently is the Director of Native American Art Programs at Plains Art Museum. Her work has been exhibited locally and regionally. She taught Art at Circle of Nations School in Wahpeton ND, as an Artist-in-Resident for the North Dakota Council on the Arts and for the Fargo Public Schools. Laura was awarded a Jerome Fellowship in 2003 to work and study with master potter, Richard Bresnahan at St. John’s University, MN and Artist Initiative Grants in 2009 and 2011 from the Minnesota State Arts Board.
I am a mixed media artist, combining drawing, painting and prints. The dress has been a consistent and important symbol in my work. The simple garment inspires layer upon layer of meaning. I am amazed how the metaphor continues to unravel, reveal and expose even deeper nuances. It began long ago, when I reacted to pictures of my grandmother. She scratched her face out of most of the pictures we have of her. Pictures of her as a very young girl in her little white dress, were especially haunting to me. She was standing in front of the oldest Catholic Church in Minnesota (Grand Portage) where she made her First Communion. The images launched me on a journey of exploration that continues to challenge me today. I explored identify or the lack of, created by the assimilation policy intended to acculturate Native children into the dominate culture. The symbol also reminds me of my mother sewing dresses for my sisters and me, and then teaching us to sew. Making garments for someone can be an act of love. It can be enveloping, nurturing and protective. On the other hand, clothing can create an illusion, to cover, mask and disguise.
I work in series (with mixed emotions) such as Common Thread, Loose Ends, and Thread Bare. Currently I am working on a series titled Blood Memory. I am intrigued with the idea of how intergenerational knowledge and memory are transferred through the maternal ‘blood’ line, coded in the mitochondrial DNA. Iron oxide is an important color that has become integral part of my visual vocabulary. I have started to use iron oxide (rust) mixed with water instead of commercial paint. It reminds me of the earth. The Earth is our Mother. Iron is in our blood. Mystifying, but authenticated by science, magnetism empowers migrating birds and animals to know instinctively when and where to travel. I am exploring the connection between blood and iron, the most common element on Earth.