Douglas K. Limón

Oneida Nation of Wisconsin
"It is about honoring the memory of my ancestors."


Douglas K. Limón says there's something deep inside of him that makes him passionate about his art.

"It's pride in my culture," said Limón, who lives in Minnesota and is a 2014 Jennifer Easton Community Spirit Award honoree. "It is about honoring the memory of my ancestors."

Limón will be honored with three other artists from around the country at the awards ceremony in Minneapolis, Minnesota, this October.

Starting at the age of five, when his mother taught him how to bead on a loom, Limón has spent his life mastering the techniques of traditional and contemporary artwork. Today, he travels around the state to give presentations to students.

"It's part of my DNA make-up," Limón said. "When I am beading I get lost in the moment. I get a sense of not being alone."

Limón's artistic expertise has been shared in countless communities. He started "The Cradleboard Project" to shed light on the Native tradition and give hands-on teaching opportunities for community members to learn how to make them. He was awarded a Minnesota state arts grant in 2011 to complete the project.

"He is successful because his finished works speak directly to the heart and soul of Native people," said fellow artist and community leader Loretta Webster. "His work draws people to him, and he has been able to explain his art in a way that helps his audience understand why art is so important in our society."

1. You have been recognized as a leader in your community. How do you use that role to help preserve your tribe's culture and traditions?
As a leader in my community, I help to preserve my culture and traditions by supporting Native artists and art organizations. I help individual artists by advising them on how to develop their art business. I share my knowledge by teaching in schools and art shows about my culture and traditions. I do this in groups and with individuals. My house is open to work on personal projects, and I visit homes to teach beadwork or make cradleboards. It is an honor for me to be able to share my knowledge and experience with others.

2. What kind of challenges do you face as an artist?
If I could just do my art, I would be happy. The challenge for me, sometimes, is that there is a business side to art. Sales, marketing, promotion, writing grants, applying for shows and all the other work required to operate an art business pull me away from simply creating art.

But early in my career I came to understand that if you want to be successful and continue to do your art, you have to do these other things as well. I do have experience starting and operating a business so that helps. I have always been good at sales and customer service. My hope is to someday hire people to manage the business side of Limón's Fine Art so that I can more fully concentrate on creating art. That's probably every artist's dream. My art business is a work in progress.

3. What would be your advice to an emerging Native artist?
First and foremost, I would say refer to yourself as an "artist." Sign up for the professional development trainings offered by First Peoples Fund as soon as you can. Establish a network of artists that you are comfortable working with to share ideas and ask questions.

And teach. You gain so much more by giving than receiving.

4. What do you hope to be doing in five years?
In five years, I hope to be doing more traveling internationally. I would like to show my art in other countries. I would also like to spend more time with my wife, children and granddaughter.

5. How has art helped you to be a stronger person?
I had a health scare, and my art changed me.

I am a diabetic with high blood pressure and heart disease. I'm sure this story is nothing new to many Native American people. However, I have survived a series of heart surgeries starting with a triple bypass and a number of stents... I lost track after 12 stents! I've had three heart attacks in a nine-month period.

A few years ago, I actually started making beaded turtles to give away as gifts at my funeral. I noticed that throwing myself full-time into my art had a positive effect over me. I found a great deal of peace in the work. And it was during that time I found my art to be very healing. I know there are a number of reasons I have been able to survive some major health issues, but I know my passion for my art has played a major role.

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