Gift Shop Artist | Melissa Hill

Growing up on the Pine Ridge Reservation, Melissa Hill’s childhood curiosity blossomed into a passion for creating objects of both beauty and meaning. When she was just seven years old, her grandmother handed her a needle and thread, and showed her how to sew simple blocks of material together. Since that time, she has worked as an artist, producing intricate pieces rooted in Lakota culture and heritage

“I have a passion to create. I make star quilts, regalia, beadwork, jewelry, clothes and other things too,” she says. “I love learning new styles and old, because art is always evolving.”

In her work—featured prominently at The Heritage Center’s gift shop—Melissa incorporates traditional techniques and objects to create striking, contemporary pieces. Her delicate jewelry often features dentalium shells—a small, white, tusk-shaped seashell historically used by the Lakota and other Native peoples to adorn ceremonial regalia and jewelry. The shells, obtained through trading, were a sign of wealth and prosperity. Indeed, one of the most famous photos of the Lakota holy man Black Elk is a portrait of him as a young man wearing an elaborate dentalium choker and necklace.

While Melissa’s grandmother sparked her initial love for art, her family continues to inspire her. After becoming a new mother, Melissa began to see her passion for creating in a different light.

“My daughter gave my life new meaning,” she says. “As my life changed, my work changed. I find myself trying new and different styles. I love making my daughter regalia, jewelry, little moccasins and things to play with. I put my heart and good thoughts into all my work.”

Melissa’s true passion will always be creating works of art that can be worn and treasured. And while right now the she creates her pieces to supplement other work, she says she will continue to pursue her dream of working as a full-time artist.

“Living the dream would be for my passion to be my main source of income,” she explains.  “I am very thankful for The Heritage Center for allowing me to provide for my daughter by buying my crafts.”  

You can find more work by Lakota artists in The Heritage Center Gift Shop, both in-store and online:


Meet Our Artists - Shawn Espinosa, Parfleche


Meet Our Artists - Miranda Red Cloud, Porcupine Quillwork


Meet Our Artists - Amanda Simmons, Bead Work

Photos © 2016 Red Cloud Indian School, Inc.
last updated: December 6, 2016