Artist Profile: Wade Patton 
Mediums: Ink, Oil Pastel, Watercolor, Quilting, Collage, Photography

Wade Patton is a member of the Oglala Sioux Tribe, was born and raised in Pine Ridge and received his Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from Black Hills State University. He is best known for his oil pastel and ledger art work. He currently lives and works near Boston, Massachusetts and work can be found in homes and galleries across the country.


What are some early memories you have of making art?

As a kid, I remember not really being one for playing outdoors. I kept myself busy indoors drawing at the coffee table, whether it was redrawing the guy on the Pringles can, or setting up my own still life. I didn’t really take an art class until my senior year of high school and even then it was just an introductory class.

Then, in college, I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to study so I simply finished all my electives and started taking art classes, one after another, and further explored. I was trying all sorts of mediums, from painting and photography to ceramics, and found that I really enjoyed it all. I was approached by some galleries to feature my work and for solo shows. Opportunities seemed to keep popping up for me, and the response was positive, so I continued. Overall, it sort of just came to be.

With so many artistic interests, where does your focus lie now?

I’m affiliated with a few galleries and I produce some oil pastel pieces for them. I’ve also continued to produce Ledger Art, which is very popular as a northern plains Native art. The Ledger Art, in particular, is really interesting for me because I’m drawing Native American scenes on old Custer County ledger papers. There is an interesting thing going on there. People who are savvy to the history find the dichotomy very intriguing, and so do I.

I’ve also started working on Quilting, which I never really thought I’d get into, but find it very enjoyable. I’m inspired by my aunt who lived nearby when I was younger. Recently, I received some of the quilts she made and I was incredibly inspired by the amount of work and detail that was all done by hand. Picking out the fabrics and making the patterns and colors work together has been a new artistic interest for me.

What is the creation process like for you?  

For me it just comes. I could be riding the train or watching TV. I find that I’ll start thinking of something so much that I need to just get it out of my mind or it will drive me crazy. Whether I get it out on paper, with ink, or through a quilt—it all depends on what I feel might best convey the idea.

With oil pastels specifically, when I start the project I’ll usually make a few very simple sketches before starting. But, I always really want to start on the final piece and not loose the energy or inspiration on tweaking sketches.

And I enjoy using oil pastels because I don’t enjoy brushes and keeping them clean! It might sound a little crazy, but I prefer to use my fingers and will sometimes use a BBQ skewer to do the fine detail work. I have respect for artists who use a brush for their work, but it’s just not how I prefer to operate. 

When the inspiration for a new piece hits, from where does it come?

In a big way I’m inspired by the experiences of growing up in South Dakota on the reservation. I started connecting with the contemporary Native arts scene during college when some professors suggested that I enter the Red Cloud Indian Art Show—and I think that really helped launch me into that world. There was good response to my work early on and all the people I’ve been surrounding myself with—my family, other artists and people I’ve met through college and the Art Show—have provided a lot of positive inspiration to continue on the path I started.

I actually draw inspiration from clouds, too. I work for a professional art framing company here in Boston. From our old work space in the Boston Design Center we overlook the downtown skyline and can see clouds rolling in off the ocean. A lot of those clouds have found their way into my Ledger Art work.

What is it like to be part of the contemporary Native art world?

Well, it’s been interesting to find out that Boston-based collectors have purchased my work from The Heritage Center or from a gallery in Rapid City while traveling and they’ll bring it home to remember South Dakota and Pine Ridge by. Yet, little do they know that some of the inspiration is from their waterfront and that the artist lives down the street! 


Wade's work can be found on display at The Heritage Center and in galleries in Rapid City, South Dakota and Boston, Massachusetts.



Photos/Art: All Rights Reserved ©Wade Patton
last updated: September 9, 2013