MINNEAPOLIS - "Restless Native ... Coming Home" an exhibit featuring
artwork by David Bradley, White Earth Chippewa, will be on display through
July 10 at Ancient Traders Gallery, 1113 East Franklin Avenue in
Widely known for his oil and acrylic narrative folk art, Bradley often uses
cultural icons in a style simultaneously vibrant and whimsical, playful and
For the exhibit, Bradley created a diptych of Chippewa artists George
Morrison and Patrick Desjarlais. "They're the icons of Minnesota Indian
art," Bradley said. "I didn't want to come home without paying homage to
those two giants who influenced all of us."
The exhibit also will feature the artist's new work including collage and
The winner of numerous awards, including the "Santa Fe Mayor's Award for
Excellence in the Arts", Bradley's work is in the permanent collections of
several museums and centers across the United States.
"What has been called my narrative folk style allows me to tell complex
stories, sometimes with complex iconography or sociopolitical content,"
The disarming humor comes naturally "when you're from a subculture that is
At age 5, Bradley and his brothers and sisters were taken from their
parents by a private welfare agency. "It's complicated," he said of his
childhood. He counts nine parents - birth parents plus his foster and
adoptive parents and, later, step-parents. The turnover "made me very
independent at a very young age."
He graduated from Remer High School, where he was Indian Student Club
president, while living and working near Leech Lake Reservation. Before the
travel bug bit him, he attended the College of St. Thomas (now University
of St. Thomas). In Tucson he studied at the University of Arizona, leaving
to join the Peace Corps.
"My travels in the Peace Corps changed my life," he said. "In Guatemala I
lived with a Mayan Indian family, terribly poor but with great strength and
integrity." His early independence contributed to his survival under the
tough living conditions. Of the volunteers in his first group, he was the
only one of 12 to complete the term.
Bradley also served in the Dominican Republic on the Haitian border. The
colors, painters and people made a lasting impression. His early work
reflects his Chippewa heritage and the folk imagery he saw in Central
While in the Peace Corps, he began corresponding with his birth mother. On
his first break, he was reunited with her - and many of his "six-and-a-half
siblings," which includes a half-sister - in Minnesota.
"We picked right up where we left off," he said of the 16-year separation
from his mother. His birth parents had divorced and remarried; three of
those four parents were White Earth Chippewa.
Following his Peace Corps service, he enrolled at the Institute of American
Indian Arts (IAIA) in Santa Fe. He lived on the Navajo Reservation during
the summer and many weekends and holidays. "I was so free in the world," he
said about his independence at IAIA. "Many of the kids came from isolated
communities and couldn't take the culture shock; many of them quit school
and went home."
In 1979, at age 25, he received one of his most treasured honors - the
Minnesota Chippewa Tribe's College "Student of the Year Academic Award."
Widely known for his oil and acrylic paintings, Bradley acknowledges the
influence of many artists, including Diego Rivera, Fernando Boltero, Henri
Rousseau, Robert Rauschenburg, and Midwestern regionalists Grant Wood and
Thomas Hart Benton.
His work in collage "appeases a different part of me," Bradley said. He's
done a lot of sculpture, some printing, ceramics and jewelry. He loves
abstract work and has dabbled in conceptual art.
If much of his art appears political, that's because it is. "By definition,
by birth, Indians are political beings," he said. "That's our condition,
our lot in life.
"In the art world, I consider myself an at-large representative and
advocate of the Chippewa people and American Indians in general. It is a
responsibility which I do not take lightly."