It's hard not to notice the changes in Darrell Norman's (Blackfeet) Browning, Montana art studio and gallery at the Lodgepole Gallery and Tipi Village.
Where there once was bad lighting, uncomfortable chairs and cluttered floor space is now an organized studio with a fresh coat of paint, shelving units, a workbench and comfortable seating.
"It is a great new studio and it is functioning beautifully," said Norman, who was able to make the changes this year through a First Peoples Fund Artist in Business Leadership Fellowship.
Norman, a Native artist from the Blackfeet tribe in Montana, has been creating contemporary and traditional art based on the Blackfeet design for 35 years. A past First Peoples Fund Community Spirit Award honoree, Norman makes and sells a wide variety of mixed media art forms, including drums, shields, hides and wood, stone, and bone sculptures.
Norman is a three-time Artist in Business Leadership fellow, a former Cultural Capital fellow, an honoree of the Montana Circle of American Masters, and an Outstanding Alumnus at North Seattle Community College.
"I needed this update to my studio," he said. Prior to the changes, some of his work sat on the floor because of the lack of space. "It was out of control."
The support from First Peoples Fund has changed the trajectory of his career, Norman said.
"My partnership with them is tremendously important, not only the funding, but the support they give you," he said. "It takes you to another step, up another level. It helps you with your productivity."
Being connected with the organization is a source of strength and pride, he added.
"Being associated with First Peoples Fund helps," he said. "It does a lot for your reputation."
Norman said he has greatly benefited from one of the organization's main goals—to bring Native artists together to encourage and share with each other.
"It's one of the greatest things," he said, because it is inspiring to meet with other Native artists who share the same passions. "Native artists are doing incredible things."
Norman said his work with First Peoples Fund has also given him a stronger voice in his community.
"The things they do to inspire people in their communities prolongs our traditional art forms," he said. "It contributes to the longevity of our culture."
Norman is now preparing for the busy summer tourist season—his gallery is just 15 miles from Glacier National Park. "My studio is right off the gallery, so people can come see me work," he said. "They see that it's nice and organized and it really does influence them."
To read more about Norman, visit his website at ww.blackfeetculturecamp.com.