The McKnight Foundation in Minneapolis has selected painter Jim Denomie as its 2019 Distinguished Artist. The annual program honors a Minnesota artist who has made significant contributions to the state's cultural life with a $50,000 cash prize.
The first Native American artist selected to receive the honor since the award was established in 1996, Denomie, a member of the Lac Courte Oreilles tribe, one of six federally recognized bands of the Ojibwe people, has earned an international reputation for monumental narrative paintings that explore the collision of Indigenous cultures and European colonizers. His work is included in the collections of the Minneapolis Institute of Art, the Walker Art Center, and the Weisman Art Museum in Minneapolis; the Minnesota Museum of American Art in Saint Paul; the Denver Art Museum; the Heard Museum in Phoenix; and the Eiteljorg Museum in Indianapolis, as well as in the McKnight Foundation lobby.
Born in 1955 on the Lac Courte Oreilles Reservation in Hayward, Wisconsin, Denomie moved to Minneapolis as a young boy after his parents divorced. Recognized early on as a gifted artist and encouraged by his mother, who bought him art supplies, Denomie dropped out of high school after a guidance counselor told him there was no future in art. For two decades, Denomie made his living in the construction trades before entering the University of Minnesota and enrolling in a studio arts course. There, he rediscovered his artistic vision while renewing connections to his Native culture.
"I met other Native people at the University of Minnesota who were hungry to go back and learn about our language and our ceremonies and our way of seeing," said Denomie, who began exhibiting his paintings soon after graduating in 1995. "For a long time, I had resentment toward that counselor for not supporting my dreams, and for giving up art for twenty years. I don't know if it made me a better artist, but now I think I had to take the path I was on to get to where I am today."
"Minnesota is Jim Denomie's home, and its history has inspired many of his most powerful paintings," said McKnight Foundation president Kate Wolford. "Today, his impact and artistic vision extend far beyond our region. We're thrilled to recognize an artist who is rooted in the Anishinaabe tradition of storytelling art and so deeply engaged in documenting the present day. His story is a reminder that creativity and self-expression can change the arc of our lives."