By Sarah Elisabeth Sawyer (Choctaw Nation), Artist in Business Leadership Fellow 2015
Laura Youngbird (Minnesota Chippewa, Grand Portage Band) is an artist and art educator. She earned her BS, BFA, and MA from Minnesota State University at Moorhead with a minor in American Indian Studies. Laura currently lives in Breckenridge, Minnesota, and is the Director of Native American Art at the Plains Art Museum in Fargo, North Dakota.
The young boy came up to Laura after her art presentation, tears in his eyes. He was moved by her painting of the “No Face Boy.” Laura didn’t know the reason behind the tears until later when his teacher told her the young boy was Native but wanted nothing to do with his culture. He had been adopted out to a non-Native family and had feelings of abandonment, of not being wanted.
“I believe I gave him some hope,” Laura says, “that the story of not being wanted wasn’t necessarily true.”
Laura also paints the “No Face Girl,” drawing from stories and photos of her grandmother who was in boarding school. Later, in adulthood, her grandmother scratched her face out of every photo of herself from those days.
Laura’s art continues to focus on difficult social justice issues, of bringing to light the hard past in an effort to bring healing.
When she was a child, Laura learned how to draw from a professional artist who lived in their neighborhood. This is it, she thought, this is what I want to do in life. I want to be an artist!
With ribbons won in shows and taking art classes, Laura’s parents encouraged her to attend tech school, which she did, for mechanical drafting. But she didn’t stop creative drawing and painting in evenings and on weekends. Ten years later, she decided to pursue art solely.
After a BFA, MA, and BS in Art Education, Laura started her new day job as an art teacher while continuing as a working artist.
In recent years, Laura has completed First Peoples Fund training programs and Train the Trainer program. Her 2018 Artist in Business Leadership funds are helping her situate her business in preparation to go full-time as a professional artist.
As she looks toward retirement in a few years, Laura says, “While I love the work that I do, I can hardly wait to retire, so I can work!”
Even with developing a business plan and marketing skills, mentoring youth and helping other Native artists, Laura is still determined to continue producing her own art pieces. The memory of the young Native boy with tears in his eyes reminds her why she needs to create art.