Sculpting futures – Ennis artist shares craft with Cheyenne students

When 17-year-old Jamie Little Boy of Busby, witnessed the bronze-casting process at the foundry in Bozeman last week, he was impressed by what he saw.

Local artist David Lemon demonstrates the clay sculpting process Thursday at the Elks Lodge in Virginia City. Lemon invited high school students from Chief Dull Knife College in Lame Deer to learn about creating bronze art. Photo by Ben Coulter

He and his classmates don’t get many opportunities to see professional artists at work where they live on the Northern Cheyenne Reservation in southeastern Montana.

“I think its pretty cool. I’ve never seen anything like this before,” Little Boy said.

Little Boy and 20 other students from the Chief Dull Knife College in Lame Deer saw art in the making Thursday thanks to local sculptor David Lemon, who first learned about the group this spring. Lemon invited the students to watch the process and visit his sculpting studio in Ennis.

“I create sculptures of Native Americans, so it would be kind of nice to give back a little bit to the kids,” Lemon said. “Especially kids that are interested in artwork.”

The group, made up of incoming freshmen through seniors, is part of the Upward Bound Program and designed to present participants with support and opportunities to reach their goals for higher education. The program offers tutoring, mentoring and advising for high school students through the reservation college. The idea is to encourage students to stay in school, explains program director Evelyn Roundstone.

“We give them the opportunity to see what’s available out there,” Roundstone said.

Once they toured the foundry the students climbed into school vans and drove to Ennis. The bronze casting had caught their interest, and by the time they packed into Lemon’s studio they strained to get a behind-the-scenes peek at some of the tools. Standing on toes and peering over shoulders, the kids wanted know more.

“Its just something very new, so they were very interested in what was going on and what was happening,” Roundstone said.

After a quick stop at Lemon’s studio the group piled back in the vans and drove to Virginia City, where they watched the artist begin a project from scratch. In less than 30 minutes Lemon transformed a mound of raw clay into a bust of Chief Dull Knife, also known as Chief Morning Star, the Northern Cheyenne leader after whom the school is named.

The students watched intently as Lemon worked away, but he cut the demonstration short to allow for time to explore the historic town.

The early stages Dave Lemon’s sculpture of Chief Dull Knife / Morning Star, a Northern Cheyenne tribal leader in the late 1800’s. Photo by Ben Coulter

Josh Carlson, an instructor with the Upward Bound Program, originally told Lemon about the school at the Masters Show in Great Falls this spring. While Carlson had his hands full keeping an eye of 20 high school kids, he couldn’t help being captivated by the sculpting process.

“The live sculpting was fabulous because I got to see a blank. And within less than an hour I saw this magic just form from his hands, and it was an intimate arena of just that oldness of being in this setting here in Virginia City,” Carlson said. “He (Lemon) knows we’re driving home, but I would have been content just to watch him finish it.”

Although there were many high points of the trip, including a tour of Lewis and Clark Caverns, Carlson took a step back to reflect on the bigger picture.

“Its showing that people can obtain their dreams, that they can experience purpose and be confident in themselves and be excited about what they’re doing. To know that they’re not limited to that reservation, that there is opportunity, but they may have to step to a larger arena to experience those opportunities,” explained Carlson. “It takes courage, it takes academic skill, but this is the time to be preparing for it.”

“The highlight is seeing the students meet people off the reservation and having a noted sculptor such as Dave Lemon welcoming these people in,” he continued.

The students enjoyed the opportunity to see something different and learn something new.

“I think its good for everybody just to go out, check out the other places in their state,” Jamie Little Boy said.

When asked why he thinks it is important to give something back to the community, Dave Lemon humbly defers credit to his Northern Cheyenne guests.

“They’re probably the most artistic people in the world. You can give them a spoon and they can make it into a work of art,” Lemon said. “If I can influence one young kid maybe we’ll have a great artist in the future, because, quite honestly, with all the technology we have now, computer modeling programs and stuff like that, we’re going to lose the ability to do this sort of thing.”

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