Chippewa Artist Mike McLeod - Inspiration

Chippewa artist Michael McLeod is well known for his beaded and painted pouches, decorated top hats, bone hair pipe breastplates, and buckskin clothing...but he is celebrated for his painted hides.

The other morning he joined us for a chat about his artwork - he told us what it's like to be an artist, how he begins working on a piece, shared some of his techniques with us, and even demonstrated how to paint on a hide.

In Part 1 of our visit with Mike, he tells us about the kind of robe he prefers to paint on, how he prepares a robe for painting, and what inspires his imagery.

[Rose] Good morning, Mike…thank you for joining us. Today you're going to demonstrate for us how to paint on a buffalo robe (the actual painting demonstration will be featured in Part 2).

Is this buffalo robe commercially processed?

[Michael McLeod] Yes, this robe has been commercially processed.

[Rose] Is that easier to work with than a brain tanned hide?

[Mike] They're about the same…but I like the commercial tanned because they lay flatter.

[Rose] So, since its commercially tanned, there isn't much prep time you have to put into it…like you don't recommend sanding a little bit before you work?

[Mike] No…

[Rose] Do you have any advice before you execute this type of medium…any kind of preparation?

[Mike] I brush it, I brush it out...and then before I even start on a robe, I'll lay it out and while I'm working on something else I'll just look at it…and then see what its going to become.

[Rose] So you're saying the medium kind of talks to you first, it tells you what its looking for?

[Mike] Yes.

[Rose] As far as the designs you put on a robe, is that kind of building itself too while you're looking at it?

[Mike] Yes. Everything about it…from when I put my first pencil mark on it, I always see what the robe is going to be.

[Rose] You do a lot of historical imagery…lots of buffalo, lots of dancers…even your center marks here (referring to the robe Mike will be demonstrating on) have a lot of historical significance. Is this historical significance mostly attributed to your tribal beliefs or is there something else you're trying to convey?

[Mike] Tribal beliefs and also the stories I used to listen to as a kid from my grandparents.

[Rose] Is that who you attribute your artwork to, is your grandparents?

[Mike] Yeah…I would listen to their stories. They were both raised on reservations…they talked about the art.

[Rose] Did your grandparents do artwork, too?

[Mike] No, but I learned from their stories (about the past) and always had an interest in Western art and especially American Indian art.