Racing Magpie Artists Tell Their Stories
An art gallery in Rapid City is trying to open a conversation about contemporary Native American art.
The historic Aby's Feed and Seed building catches the eye of many who drive down a busy street in Rapid City. But the mill doesn’t offer bags of grain to locals anymore. Now it’s the home to the Racing Magpie gallery.
The first room visitors walk into is the contemporary Native art gallery. A white sheet with an image of a man in black ink hangs from the ceiling and diffuses the light shining through the windows. Paintings of scenes from South Dakota and portraits hang on the walls.
Mary Bordeaux and Peter Strong are the co-owners of the Racing Magpie.
Mary Bordeaux says the couple saw a need for a space that focused on modern Native American art.
“The region that we’re in thinks about Native art in a certain way and only thinks about Native art as long hair, feathers, and sunsets and there’s so much more to it.”
She says she hopes the gallery leads people to focus on the concepts of the art and opens conversation.
“There is such a divide right now, especially in Rapid City, between Native people and non-Native people. I don’t think Lakota artists, Northern Plains artists and Indigenous artists to this area don’t necessarily have the opportunity to voice their concerns through their art because everyone is so focused on this idea of what they see as traditional.”
Bordeaux says their mission is to provide a space where contemporary Native American artists can express themselves without people dictating who they are.
People also rent rooms in the building and set up shop. Peter Strong walks through the workspaces pointing out the worn wooden floors and old brick walls.
“We’ve got about thirteen or so Native and non-Native artists throughout the space.”
Strong says the artists feed off of each other’s creativity. They get critiques, bounce ideas around and collaborate.
“Part of our strategy of having Native and non-Native artists in the studios is that this is a conversation about art, right. That there isn’t a need to segregate Native people over there and have one set of standards and everyone else over here. That we are one community and even though there are differences that should be celebrated, that it’s one conversation.”
Strong says they host an open house for the public every month.
Live music echoes through the Racing Magpie. Visitors examine the paintings, collages and photos and speak to the artists.
Each workspace is customized depending on their medium.
Stan Goodshield is the owner of Blackhawk creations. He makes traditional Native American art like shields and jewelry.
“The last few years I started thinking more of my culture and then I started checking the internet, looking at stuff from 1850’s and 1870’s and that’s what I kind of base my stuff on. And I’ve had some elders and others that are in the know inspect my stuff.”
He says it's important to practice these arts to keep the culture alive.
“During the summer people come through here and some of them come looking for this stuff, you know. As far as the materials go, somebody could get on the internet and but everything they need and assemble it but it’s not the same because there’s steps we go through culturally to this the right way, you know, our way.”
Goodshield shares a space and collaborates with Ryan Hunter, the owner of Black Dog Forge Fur and trade.
Hunter shaves off pieces of a dark, glossy stone as he sharpens it.
“Right now I’m flint knapping, the ancient art of making arrow heads and knives and other useful tools.”
He says the pieces take up to 6 hours make.
“I have to put the end of my ishi stick onto the stone. And push an individual flake off. Which means, on that particular piece there was about three thousand chances to snap in in half.”
Hunter says he does the art because he believes it is humanity in a nutshell.
Another workspace is set up for digital projects. Anna Robinson owns Drum Song Media.
“I do mostly video and audio production. Some animation, photography and graphic design, music, singer song writer stuff and composition.”
Robinson works with local musicians and is involved with an animated children’s show that teaches Lakota. She says being in the work space has kept her motivated.
“It’s been awesome. It’s a great environment. I love having a studio here. I’ve been able to network with the other artists here and they’ve inspired me to try new things that I would never have thought to do before.”
A tall display case stands against the wall of another office. It is filled with glass jewelry hanging off silver wire. Anne Horst is the artist. She says she was introduced to the art by…
“My mother in law. She did art class at a retirement campground and got me interested. And we’ve been going to Las Vegas for classes every year. We’ve been doing that for 8 years now.”
To create the jewelry, she starts with a piece of fused glass made different colors melted together.
“And then we take a saw and cut it all up and then lay those pieces back in the kiln, round the edges and then make pedants out of those.”
She says there are other steps to creating the jewelry such as cold working, or grinding it down with diamond.
Across the hall, Chelsey Foulk points to out the paintings in her workspace. Her subjects are…
“Mostly portraits. But I also work with kind of experimenting with painting with strings.”
She places string on canvas, paints, and then removes it leaving a twisted white line in the scene. She calls them Life Path images. Foulk says she began making them as a way to cope.
“I kind of lost someone really dear to me my senior year of college and I was completely lost in what direction I really wanted to go. I needed something that kind of symbolized figuring out how I got to that point in time in my life.”
She says being at the Racing Magpie made her decide to pursue art full time.
A large room at the end of the hall is home to Scrap Iron Press. Lucy Ganje is the owner.
She makes letter press designs. She says the process is almost 600 years old.
“It’s analog not digital. And so, what that means is everything is done by hand. It’s part of, I think, the slow movement were fast isn’t always first. It’s not always best. It gives you time to think.”
Ganje taught graphic design and letter press for nearly 30 years at the University of North Dakota. After she retired she moved her studio to Rapid City and found the Racing Magpie.
“And I saw what they were doing. And not just the aesthetics, which are beautiful. I love the old building and the Feed and Seed. All of that works great with my antique presses. But also the ideology. How it’s a supportive community.”
The Racing Magpie is also workspace for other painters, photographers and The Black Hills Play House. Owners say they plan on expanding the building to include more work spaces later this year.