By Sarah Elisabeth Sawyer (Choctaw), Artist in Business Leadership Fellow 2015


Multi-award winning artist Wade Patton (Oglala Lakota) was born on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, though he grew up in an urban environment. Wade earned a Bachelors of Fine Art from Black Hills State University in South Dakota, and has been an Artist in Residency at Crazy Horse Memorial. He currently works and mentors in his studio space at Racing Magpie in Rapid City, South Dakota.


Nothing like it in the Indian art world. Wade Patton is establishing a style of his own, his voice that he found after leaving home. Working in Boston doing high-end framing, Wade handled modern works where he prepared gallery pieces for places like Manhattan, London, Miami, and Los Angeles.

But he kept in mind how he wanted to do his own work, to someday become a full-time artist. He began drawing landscapes and clouds. What Wade missed most from home came to life on ledger pages: the beauty, the splendor of the Black Hills and the skies of South Dakota.

He sent work home — pieces reflecting his memories — where it was well received. Awards. Shows. He finally made the leap.

Wade has become part of the thriving Native art scene in Rapid City, motivating him to push his art to new places. Now full-time, Wade is learning to manage opportunities as they flood in: Santa Fe Indian Market, Red Cloud Indian Art Show, wrapping up illustrations on a children’s book, preparing for the University of South Dakota’s Native Arts Indian residency, and mentoring youth.

Through the Cheyenne River Youth Project, in partnership with the Rolling Rez Arts Mobile Unit, Wade traveled to Eagle Butte for the first time last month and taught 13-17 year olds. They toured the mobile unit, then Wade taught them the history and meaning of ledger art and how to prepare their work to enter a show. Continuing on the Rolling Rez, Wade taught youth and adults in Oglala Lakota County, stopping at six sites in three days.

The First Peoples Fund Convening in Minneapolis was a solidifying experience for Wade, who is a 2017 Artists in Business Leadership fellow. He made lifelong friends with other working artists, their connection visual in the circle where they tossed their nametags at the end of each day. The tags connected, just as the artists did.

It took moving away from home for Wade to discover his voice. But he’s bringing a little of the East Coast scene into traditional Lakota art, a breath of fresh air to open people’s minds to modern Native art. He hopes others get something out of it that lasts a long time as he continues on his journey as a full-time artist.