studio shot

Spirit Lake Project

Gurevich Fine Art, Winnipeg, Manitoba
March 7-30, 2014


In 2010 I was commissioned by the North Dakota Museum of Art in Grand Forks, ND to create a series of paintings reflecting on contemporary life on the Spirit Lake Reservation in North Dakota. I was one of six native and non-native artists engaged for this project by Laurel Rueter, Director and Curator of the museum. Laurel, a white woman, grew up on the reservation and her brother Russ, to this day lives and farms on the reservation on allotted land.

I was invited to this project on the reputation of my Treaty Lands Project, ongoing for ten years, which reflects on the nature of landscape and history in Canada’s Central regions.

I have spent the last four years travelling to Spirit Lake Dakota Nation and living off and on there for short periods, getting to know people and searching for ways into this project for myself as a non-native, Canadian artist who had never lived on or even visited an American reservation before and had only a passing knowledge of American politics, history and geography and the American Indian movement.

In 2012 NDMOA received additional funding for this project from the Robert Rauschenberg Foundation’s Artistic Innovation and Collaboration Grant Program, leading to further collaborations with Cankdeska Cikana Community College in Spirit Lake. Presentations of the exhibition, Songs for Spirit Lake took place in 2013 at the Rauschenberg Project Space in New York City and at Cankdeska Cikana Community College. Songs for Spirit Lake is currently on display at the North Dakota Museum of Art until April 27, 2014.

My work for this project has produced several series of landscape paintings, a series of portraits and a series of text paintings. The portraits and text paintings have been acquired by NDMOA for it’s collection and they are included in Songs for Spirit Lake along with a number of landscapes. Examples from each of the landscape series produced for this project are included in Paintings from Spirit Lake, at Gurevich Fine Art including small and large scale encaustic on canvas and panel works and three paintings from a series of acrylic on paper works produced during a residency at the Emma Lake Artists Workshop. A single portrait is also included.

Tim Schouten, February 17, 2014

Gurevich Fine Art Press Release, February 27, 2014

Review by Steven Leyden-Cochran, Winnipeg Free Press, March 13, 2014

Songs for Spirit Lake

Rauschenberg Project Space, New York, NY
May 24–June 29, 2013

Cankdeska Cicana Community College, Fort Totten, Spirit Lake Nation, North Dakota
November 1-31, 2013
North Dakota Museum of Art, Grand Forks, ND
February 8 - April 27, 2014

Curated by Laurel Reuter, director of the North Dakota Museum of Art, the exhibition Songs for Spirit Lake will reflect the ongoing conversation between six artists who created artwork on or about the Spirit Lake Sioux Reservation in North Dakota. The artists are Rena Effendi, Bill Harbort, John Hitchcock, Terry Jelsing, Mary Lucier, and Tim Schouten. Under the aegis of the Robert Rauschenberg Foundation’s Artistic Innovation and Collaboration Grant Program, this first in-progress exhibition allows each artist to create work that responds to their continuing conversations with the inhabitants of Spirit Lake. - Robert Rauschenberg Foundation Press Release, May 15, 2013


I have selected 46 paintings from this ongoing body of work for this show. There are 3 large landscapes (54"x72"), each of which features an architectural element, buildings and such; and a smaller landscape (36"x36") that includes some text. These paintings take as there starting points, photographs that I have taken around Spirit Lake Nation on visits to the reservation over the last three years. These paintings are painted with a medium called "encaustic", a hot wax medium in which a blend of waxes and resin is mixed with pigments and applied to a ground in a molten state with brushes and other tools. The wax dries almost instantly and is translucent and I apply many layers to each canvas, often scraping away to reveal layers below. I also work back into the pictures with irons, a heat gun or propane torch and various other implements.

Although I have dealt in my work with issues about the land and treaties for many years in Canada, as a Non-Indian person coming into this project, not having lived on a reservation and not being very familiar with American history in general and the treaty relations between the Tribes and the US government in particular, I felt the need to spend time at Spirit Lake, talking to people and trying to get a sense of the place and what life there was like.

I have gotten to meet a lot of people there and have had the chance to get to know a few of them better. I have visited Spirit Lake three or four times a year, for up to two weeks at a time, for the last three years. I am not the most social person to begin with and as a white man and an outsider, it was a slow process, coming to feel that I understood anything at all about the community. Very slowly, I have made many friends there (including Facebook friends!), and I have learned a little about contemporary Dakota world views, and a few words of the language, but I still know that my understanding of the place is only skin deep. White skin at that.

I have attended Powwows and a Sundance as well as the Opening Ceremony for a new building at the Community Tribal College. I have spent time with Laurel Reuter's brother Russ (a white man) and his family, who live on and farm land they own on the reservation. I have also ridden with Russ on his propane truck on his job delivering heating fuel to homes around the reservation. I have met Tribal politicians, Tribal Elders, educators, artists, students, road workers and ranchers. I rode on Veteran's Memorial horse ride with the riders of Sunka Wakan Ah-Ku, an equine program for youth on the reservation. I was invited to give a talk about my art to students in the Art Program at Cankdeska Cikana Community College.

Also in the show are 10 small "Text Paintings" which are essentially paintings of words. I have also done a lot of reading and research for this project, spending time in the Archives of the North Dakota History Society in Bismarck and the libraries of UND and Cankdeska Cikana Community College as well as online. From my readings I have pulled poignant but somewhat ambiguous words and phrases, which I have applied, to canvas using stencils and encaustic. All of these texts refer to documents related to the land.

And finally, I have included in the show 32 small (10"x8") portrait studies that I have done in acrylic on wood panels. Each picture is a quick study of one of the many people I have met on my journey for this project. I anticipate that this series will eventually number 100.

I think it is fair to say that while I in fact am attempting to portray nothing and in fact have no grand message at all, I hope that my work somehow captures a sense of the journey I have been on to understand life in this place, to understand the ties that bind this place with the rest of us and the struggles that all of us go through to try to find a way to live together in this world.

I hope with each picture to present to the viewer a wondrous and beautiful painting which conveys a sense of awe and beauty and a sense of place but which also raises questions about our shared histories and the land and in particular the awesome burden we all carry, White and Indian alike as we try to reconcile the harsh inequities of the past and present.

It was an honor to be asked by Laurel Reuter to participate in the collaborative project for which this exhibition is an interim showcase. Our project will continue. This project dove tails perfectly with my art practice that for many years has been an exploration of the landscape and it's histories and a consideration of the implications of such considerations in a highly urban and future looking world. This is my first show in New York and I am very happy for the opportunity to have my work seen here.

Tim Schouten, May 20, 2013