By Sarah Elisabeth Sawyer, 2015 Artists in Business Leadership Fellow
It was about the time of one suicide after another on the Cheyenne and Pine Ridge Reservations. Brendon Albers (Cheyenne River Sioux) sent out a letter with his story, a story of what he had lost in life, of what he had found in art. The healing that comes from shaping stone — alabaster from the Black Hills — with a story to tell.
When he was fourteen, Brendon was one of those youths who needed purpose. Art class gave him that. His heart, hands and mind worked in unison for the first time. He wanted to bring this art to the youth on the Reservation.
But getting stone was hard. Brendon sent his story to companies, hoping for a partner to provide tools and stone for the youth workshops he planned through his First Peoples Fund’s Cultural Capital Fellowship.
Prayer made it happen. Louise Starbird of Sculpture House was the answer to those prayers.
A semi-truck arrived at Eagle Butte High School on the day of the workshop. They unwrapped the valuable pallet — boxes of tools, barrels filled to the rim with stones in all shapes and sizes and colors.
Having carved with only a framing hammer, screwdrivers and horseshoe files, Brendon had never seen real sculpting tools. He was just as excited as the youth. But it was only the beginning.
The youth attacked this art form fearlessly and started making things — things worth money — helping each other, smiling, laughing. They had a hidden vision, as though they’d done this always.
Brendon posted seven days of updates on Facebook. Partway through, Louise Starbird called. Sculpture House would continue their support with two shipments of rock and tools twice a year, whenever Brendon needed them. Tears came with the second part of her offer — to start a $1,000 scholarship for a graduating student to further their education and art career.
This project is reshaping the lives of Native youth — how they think about their proud heritage, who they are, what they are capable of.
The youth need people to show them there’s so much beauty to live for. Brendon is one of those people.