Colleen Cutschall, B.F.A., M.S.


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My love of art started with...

In spite of a very limited exposure to art growing up, my sources were mostly in my family and the Lakota community in South Dakota. My mother is a fashion designer and my father dabbled in ornamental wrought iron and metal sculpture. They both encouraged my interest in the arts. The more I learned, the more interested and passionate I became about it. I felt starved for art and therefore pursued it as my main area of study when I entered university.

I wanted to teach because...

Survival is a great motivator. I don’t think it was ever a career goal to teach but came naturally at a time when few Aboriginal people had degrees and some of the first professional education positions began to open up and seek out Aboriginal people to work in their educational institutions. It was isolating culturally both in terms of the content of education and trying to fit into mainstream schools and institutions. The need for Aboriginal curriculum and perspectives became the driving force of my early career.

The most exciting place I think I've ever shown is...

In 2003 I designed the Spirit Warriors sculpture and led a team through the installation of a large scale bronze sculpture, 14’ x 34’. It was dedicated as the new Aboriginal Memorial at the Little Bighorn Battlefield in southeastern Montana. Aboriginal people came by the thousands, some on horseback, to witness this historic moment and to commemorate the Aboriginal victory that had been achieved there in 1876. The sculpture itself is very much like a line drawing and so one looks both at and through the work to view prairie landscape and sky that change from moment to moment.

My style of teaching can be described as...

For over twenty years I have been teaching both art history and studio courses, mainly drawing and indigenous techniques. I previously worked as a one person department in Fine Arts and this encouraged me to develop the large survey courses in the Western canon and Aboriginal art of North America. I think I was obsessed with introducing the art of the world from many different cultures and perspectives for fear that these courses would be my students only exposure to these arts in their life. These courses focus on the diagnostics of identification of artworks and their classification by period, style, school, movements or region and a survey of significant and representative art and artists from each. Art history is predominantly research and lecture oriented and studio courses are practice and critique centered.

A brief Professional History...

My earliest significant training began with internationally reknown Dakota artist, Oscar Howe who encouraged the expression of cultural content in my work. High school art classes were not available to me while attending a mission boarding school in South Dakota. So it was really my exposure in undergraduate studies just outside Chicago that formed the basis of my knowledge about art. I was fortunate to have the Chicago Institute of Art and the Field Museum of Anthropology to expand my exposure to the art of the world beyond the classroom. After completing my BA in Fine Arts I started teaching at the elementary to high school levels while pursuing a MS degree in Education, curriculum development. My interests were more in development and training in Indian Education programs and bilingual and bicultural programs of the 70’s. I worked with a variety of education training centers in the Midwest, west, and southwest regions of the US. My travels took me to many reservation schools where I was able to meet many different tribes and come to understand their uniqueness as well as the common issues faced in Indian Education. These experiences were the most valuable cultural education I could receive. So after many years of living out of a suitcase I was encouraged to come to Brandon University in the mid 80’s to settle into fulltime teaching in the Native Studies department for four years on term contract. After that I was hired into the only existing Fine Arts position and was tenured in 1992 and made full professor in 2001. I have been the coordinator or the chair of Fine Arts all these years except for when away on sabbatical. Most recently, although it has taken many years to achieve, is the new BFA program at Brandon University that has just seen its first graduate in 2007.

My personal achievements are...

While teaching at Brandon University I have received the Excellence in Community Service award, two Felix Rufus awards, and in 2007 received the President’s Medal. This last award combines excellence in community service, teaching, and research.

The work I'm currently developing is...

For the last two and half years I have been working with the National Museum of the American Indian in Washington D.C. as co-curator and writer for a book that accompanies the exhibition, Identity by Design. It is an exhibit of antique dresses from the Plains, Plateau and Basin area. The exhibit opened in the spring of 2007 and will be at NMAI until spring 2008. It will then tour to their museum in New York City in the fall of 2008. It was really quite a thrill to work with such an amazing museum collection and the top female dressmakers in North America as consultants.

My aim for my students...

Hopefully a successful life and career as an artist. I want our students to feel that they can contribute and compete in the world of art regardless of their age, gender, culture, or economic status.

Colleen Cutschall