Intricate, graceful, thought-provoking and profound -- these are all words that have been used to describe the elaborate masterwork of Leah Yellowbird. Originally a traditional bead-worker, she identifies strongly with her First Nations Algonquin-Metis and Anishinaabe heritage. At a young age, Yellowbird learned from her aunt how to follow traditional beading patterns and has been working in this medium her entire life. This knowledge, combined with her creative eye and exploration of color, has spilled over into the realm of painting, and she is now well-regarded for her work in all mediums.
Yellowbird was the assistant to the executive director at a food shelf in International Falls; after a rough period in her personal life that involved death and the end of a relationship, she moved to Grand Rapids and took a break from everything. From there, she made the natural progression into painting and completed two murals, this after roughly two decades without ever picking up a paintbrush.
Yellowbird had the first solo exhibit at the American Indian Community Housing Organization (AICHO) in 2013 and has since had her work on display at a variety of prominent spaces, including the Macrosite Art Center, Plains Museum of Art, and the Tweed Museum of Art. She was the Grand Rapids Arts artist in residence from 2015 until 2016. There her studio was open to the public and she created some of her most popular pieces to date. Recently, she was commissioned to design the floor of the new government building in Virginia, Minnesota.
Yellowbird describes her progress in the context of survival; painting and beading are like breathing to her. She draws inspiration from the traditional art forms of her ancestors while adding a modern voice to the imagery, the result of which evokes a sense of nostalgia and wonder. Her work is a visual manifestation of time each dot embodying a moment and a prayer. Using precision, pressure and symmetry, her pointillistic style leaves viewers humbled and curious -- they walk away having seen something that they've never seen before.