Turtle Mountain artist seeks to give back to others as art career takes off

Julie Patnaude (Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa) is standing on the cusp of a new career.

Patnaude, who is a residential advisor at Job Corps in Minot, North Dakota, recently opened her first art show at the Heart of the Turtle Native American Art Gallery in Minot.

"The first time you're putting your art out into the world is nerve-wracking," she said.

Patnaude said she has worked at several jobs in her life, but art has always been a constant. She majored in art in college and has been painting and drawing all her life. It was while she was going through hundreds of pieces of her own artwork that she had stored during the years that a friend asked a life-changing question.

"They said, 'Why don't you sell this?'" Patnaude recalled. "It was an 'aha' moment for me. I thought, 'Why am I not doing this?'"

She hopes to transition to full-time work as an artist, and said a 2015 Artist in Business Leadership Fellowship from First Peoples Fund has been a big help in getting there. Over the next year, Patnaude hopes to set up a website to showcase and sell her artwork, sell her pieces in art galleries in North Dakota and neighboring states, and complete enough pieces to sell at art and craft shows.

In preparation for showing her artwork in stores and galleries, Patnaude plans to use some of the grant money to frame and mat the artwork. She hopes someday to produce prints of her work to reach a broader audience.

The ideas for her artwork, which is contemporary and focuses on surrealism, is inspired by the kids she works with, her heritage as a member of the Turtle Mountain Band of the Chippewa tribe, and memories of places she's been. Patnaude said she learned valuable lessons during the Heart of the Turtle Mountain show, including the importance of staying connected with potential buyers through business cards, and focusing more on fewer pieces.

"I sold four pieces, which is pretty good for my first show," she said. "But if I could go back and do it differently, I wouldn't have done so many pieces. I had 22. I worked really hard on each of them, but I would focus and spend more time on each piece."

The direction and support of First Peoples Fund has given is valuable, Patnaude said.

"They've been really supportive through their professional development training and career coaching," she said. "They've helped me branch out and try different types of art."

More than anything, she said, First Peoples Fund has given her confidence. "I felt like I was stumbling around in the dark," she said.

A recent professional development training in New Mexico helped her connect with other artists and get a glimpse of what her future might look like. "I'm not there yet, but it was nice to see what they are doing," she said, of well-established artists.

Even after she makes the transition to full-time art, Patnaude said she plans to continue to volunteer. Before her work ends at the Job Corps, she hopes to collaborate with students on artwork.

"I'd like to do projects with them in the future, maybe a mural," she said.

It is other people that inspire her, she said, and she wants to continue to give back no matter where she is.

"I think it's important to contribute to other peoples' lives," she said.