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  • Writer's pictureCARAVAN Arts

Artist Spotlight: Letting Clouds Tell His People's Stories

Updated: May 13

An Interview with Oglala Lakota artist Wade Patton.

CARAVAN Founding President, Paul G. Chandler, had the privilege of interviewing the noted contemporary indigenous artist Wade Patton, an enrolled member of the Oglala Lakota tribe in South Dakota, USA, who is also a participating artist in our GROUNDED exhibition. His work was recently featured in the New York Times.

“Patton’s establishing a style of his own and there’s nothing like it right

now in the Indian art world.”

Artist Donald F. Montileaux (Oglala Sioux)

Artist Wade Patton at an exhibition of his work at University of South Dakota

in Vermillion, South Dakota, USA

WADE PATTON is an enrolled member of the Oglala Lakota Tribe and grew up on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota, surrounded by a rich culture of music and art. He obtained a Bachelor of Arts degree from Black Hills State University and held his first solo art show at the Sioux Indian Museum in Rapid City. While pursuing art opportunities on the East Coast of the United States, he longed for home. And he began expressing what he missed in South Dakota - the beautiful splendor of the Black Hills, the landscape and skies. He started to draw the landscapes as a reminder of home, and in doing so, reconnected within himself in his artistic expression, and started attracting the interest of collectors and galleries, including back in South Dakota. Missing his family, he realized how much he needed to return home, and to pursue his art in the place where he found the most inspiration. That decision brought him into a thriving and inspiring art community and a new diverse contemporary Native art scene.

The influences of his land and ancestry are prevalent in his artwork, which is respectful of his people, their stories and the land where he is from. Wade is a storyteller for his culture, keeping the Lakota legends alive in a contemporary manner. Through storytelling and design, he draws people into his work and explains the meanings he infuses in his art (symbology, colors, animals, etc.), thereby creating conversation.

For more information, see:


When did you start creating art and know it would become your life’s calling?

As long as I could remember, I always did like to create, from drawing in the dirt with my fingers to sketching the Pringles guy at the coffee table.


What formative influences have shaped your life as an artist?

I grew up with relatives who always created from making buckskin calendars, quilting, drawing, beading and gardening. I was always intrigued with their means of creative expression. However, at that early age, I didn’t know that their artistic talents would be influential in my art later in life.

Wade Patton, Big Sky, micron ink on ledger paper


Your work is distinctive in the way in which you use the medium of ledger paper…known often as Ledger Art.  Could you share a little about your unique approach in using this medium.

I always loved to draw and it wasn't until I moved to the east coast in which I was gifted a ledger book. I began drawing on the pages of my homelands, especially the skies of South Dakota. This became a profound impact of my work which has grown to be one of my avenues in which I express myself artistically.


Art serves many roles, what do you see as its greatest value?

I see the most powerful roles of art being storytelling, conversation and education.

Wade Patton, Districts, 2021, graphite/prisma color on ledger paper

Is there an overall theme that your work expresses, and if so, can you share that with us?

Basically, I’m expressing my indigenous culture and all aspects of it. I especially focus on the skies of South Dakota (which I used to look up at while playing hide and seek in the tall grasses as a child), Lakota legends, Mother Earth, relatives, community and most importantly Oyate (people).


What do you feel Native Americans artists can especially offer our world today?

I would say that it is important to listen to indigenous artists because we are the storytellers from generation to generation.

Wade Patton's original ledger art on The Lakota Fund Mobile Bank Bus, which travels to the nine districts of Oglala Lakota County in South Dakota, assisting his people with their banking needs.

Can you share with us what excited you about participating in the GROUNDED exhibition, and how your experience during the exhibition tour has been?

I am honored to be part of this distinguished group of artists. Each is very talented in their own right. It is also deeply meaningful to be included, accepted and acknowledged for the love of artwork that I do. The GROUNDED exhibition is well curated and visible throughout social media, which is a viable tool for working artists.

Beaded Cuffs made by Wade Patton


Can you share with us what projects you are currently working on?

I’ll continue drawing, beading and painting. Also, I want to dedicate a series of works on ledger pages that highlight several women of our community of Lakota culture who exemplify resilience, compassion and generosity.

Wade Patton, New Mexico, 2020, graphite/prisma color

Wade Patton, Red Shirt Table, 2016, graphite

Wade Patton, Magpies Racing, micron ink on ledger paper


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