About the Artist
My people will sleep for 100 years, but when they awake, it will be the artists who give them their spirit back.”
– Louis Riel
Intricate, graceful, thought-provoking and prolific —
these are all words that have been used to describe the elaborate masterwork of Leah Yellowbird. Originally a traditional bead-worker, she identifies strongly with her First Nations Algonquin-Metis and Anishinaabe heritage. At a young age, Yellowbird learned from her extended family how to follow traditional beading patterns and has been working in this medium her entire life. This knowledge, combined with her creative eye and exploration of color, has spilled over into the realm of painting, and she is now well-regarded for her work in all mediums (painting being the most recent). After a rough period in her personal life that involved a death and the end of a relationship, Leah took a break from everything and decided to pick up a paint brush, something that had been absent from her hand for two decades. The result of this creative time brought significant public interest to her work.
Yellowbird had her first solo exhibition at the American Indian Community Housing Organization (AICHO) in 2013 and has since had her work on display at a variety of prominent spaces, including the Macrostie Art Center, Plains Museum of Art, and the Tweed Museum of Art. She was the Grand Rapids Arts artist in residence from 2015 until 2016 there, her studio was open to the public and she created some of her most popular pieces to date.
Yellowbird describes her process in the context of survival; painting and beading are like breathing to her. She draws inspiration from the traditional art forms of her ancestors while adding a modern voice to the imagery, the result of which evokes a sense of nostalgia and wonder. Her work is a visual manifestation of time, each dot embodying a moment and a prayer. Using precision, pressure and symmetry, her pointillistic style leaves viewers humbled and curious — they walk away having seen something they’ve never seen before.