Squeezing every last drop out of his First Peoples Fund fellowship

Paul High Horse's (Sicangu Lakota) strategy is simple—squeeze every last drop of opportunity, knowledge and funding out of the First Peoples Fund Artist in Business Leadership Fellowship he was awarded this year.

"I have really tried to stretch this grant," said High Horse, who grew up on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota and now lives in Council Bluffs, Iowa.

His purposefulness is also reflective of straddling two careers—that of a full-time art teacher at Ft. Calhoun Junior and Senior High School, and as a professional mixed media Native artist. "I absolutely love teaching," he said. "It's tough to balance teaching and doing my art. But, I don't think I could give up either. There are things with my classes that I can do in my professional work and then things that I am doing in my professional work that I can teach to my kids."

The Artist in Business Leadership Fellowship gave him a much-needed push, he said, including the completion of two solo exhibitions in South Dakota. The first was at Crazy Horse Monument and the second was at the Journey Museum. "They were excellent," High Horse said. "One of my main objectives with this grant was to get more exposure. The exhibitions helped me expand my fan base and gave me more experience."

High Horse will open a two-man exhibition with artist Steve Tamayo at the Hot Shops Art Center in Omaha, Nebraska, next month. Tamayo, he said, is very knowledgeable in Lakota art and history and has shared his wisdom.

High Horse hopes to use the Nebraska show as an opportunity to connect with other gallery owners and managers to talk about his work.

Besides exhibitions, the fellowship from First Peoples Fund has also allowed him to start a website, purchase art materials, and a trailer to haul his art to market. High Horse's art, which is mixed media mostly on birch panels, includes geometric details and fine lines. He is inspired by the Lakota culture, but also spirituality, graffiti and architecture. He has been honing the craft since the early 2000s, and met First Peoples Fund President Lori Pourier in 2014, but almost didn't apply for the fellowship when it was brought to his attention.

"I was new to showing my art," he said. "But I met a lot of artists and they told me to apply to First Peoples Fund."

One of the best aspects of support from FPF has little to do with money, he said. "They're very professional and structured," he said. "It's all the extra stuff, the workshops and the assistance."

The Santa Fe, New Mexico, Native Artist Professional Development Training put on by First Peoples Fund that High Horse attended in April was just one example of that. "It was phenomenal," he said. "It was really fun to be around that much talent and creativity. The staff was there to help us figure out what we wanted to do. It was awesome. I learned so much."