Mural connects generations of role models to community

Nacoma Jefferson
Thursday, October 22, 2020
Mural connects generations of role models to community
Photo by Nacoma Jefferson
Crow and Northern Cheyenne artist Ben Pease began work on a mural in Crow Agency. The project will feature eight tribal members who exemplify the highest standards of Crow culture and behavior. The project, which is funded by two Washington, D.C. area nonprofits was organized by JoRee LaFrance.

Slowly over the course of several hours, the image of Crow Chief Pretty Eagle emerged on the wall of Ammaaíisshiwuua, the laundromat in Crow Agency.

Artist Ben Pease is to blame, but it’s not graffiti, it’s tribute, and it’s far from complete. The project is a mural, which will feature portraits of eight prominent tribal members who exemplify the highest standards of Crow culture and behavior.

The project is sponsored by nonprofit organizations, The Center for Native American Youth and Generation Indigenous started with the simple idea to uplift and inspire the youth and to bring art into the community.

“I have been traveled around to showcase my artwork in art galleries and museums,” Pease said, “but initially I started my career with paintings of elders and namesakes of Chiefs.”

Pease’s sales started snowballing and after seven years, they have no slowed down.

“Now I am starting to move on to work on more murals and public speaking at art engagements,” he said.

The organizer behind the project, JoRee LaFrance, is studying to get her doctorate degree in Arizona. She found the funding for the mural asked Pease to lend his artistic skill to the endeavor to bring a little color and beauty and liven up the downtown Crow Agency community.

“This is a great opportunity to inspire kids and Native creativity within the community because, growing up in Lodge Grass, I did not know becoming a professional artist was a possibility in this world,” Pease said. “Being able to show my skills as an artist to the youth on the reservation means the world to me and if I only give one or 10 kids inspiration down the road even if it takes 15 or 20 years this would be worth it.”

“I was approached by the Center for Native American Youth to organize a project that would bring awareness to the 2020 Census,” Crow Doctoral student LaFrance said. “I knew that I wanted to bridge civic engagement and art together and there was no better person to do that with than Apsáalooke and Northern Cheyenne artist, Ben Pease. Ben and I have been working on this project since mid-August… (The mural) will reflect the strength and beauty of Apsáalooke people yesterday, today, and tomorrow. I hope that this mural will remind people about those many leaders from our past whose wisdom that guides, the many leaders who fight for us today and the many leaders who are yet to come.”

LaFrance said she wanted to the project to showcase Apsáalooke colors, designs, and concepts through art and for her Pease is the perfect person to do that.

“Ben is an incredible artist and I am eternally grateful that he is taking the time and effort to produce not only a large piece of work but a one-of-a-kind at that,” she said.

The project also included several mini murals completed by youth participants across the Crow Reservation.

“For the mini-murals, we were able to provide all supplies necessary to seven youth participants and placed their murals across the reservation,” LaFrance said. “The youth participants were between the ages of 10 to 22 years-old and each painted murals following their own concept and message that would bring awareness to the 2020 Census.”

The floral design on the large mural Pease is working on is based on an old traditional Crow style beadwork, the colors of the flowers and background of the mural have been matched to the historical colors of the original design.

In the middle of the painting will be a design of a Crow style hourglass and going from there will be portraits of two contemporary youth, Jacoby Little Light and Zalieah Dust; a historic medicine woman named Pretty Shield and Crow Chief Pretty Eagle Crow chief, who lived in the late 1800s and early 1900s; Crow elder Dr. Janine Pease and the late Grant Bulltail; and social activist and U.S. Army Veteran Laurie Kindness. Pease and LaFrance are still looking for one more contemporary male role model to feature on the mural.

“I have no estimated timeline for the project, I do not want to rush the painting in hopes it will be around for many years to come. I have donated about 200 hours of my time to the mural already and have had to paid for some of the supplies out of my own pocket but The Center for Native American youth has sponsored most of the materials.” said Pease.