Governor’s Arts Awards: Kevin Red Star

Bringing Apsáalooke history and stories to life and sharing them with the world

Art Beat

The six 2018 Governor’s Arts Award honorees – Rick Bass, Monte Dolack, Jackie Parsons, Kevin Red Star, Jaune Quick-To-See Smith and Annick Smith – were honored during a public ceremony with Lt. Governor Mike Cooney, Dec. 7 at the Capitol Rotunda in Helena.

The Governor’s Arts Award recognizes outstanding individuals and organizations whose achievements in the arts, or on behalf of the arts, benefit all Montanans. The six honorees join the ranks of more than 100 Montanans honored since the awards were established in 1981, including Rudy Autio, James Lee Burke, Judith Blegen, Agnes Oshanee Kenmille, Wally McRae, Frances Senska, Michael Smuin and Benjamin Steele, to name just a few.

Lively Times continues its profiles of recipients with Crow artist Kevin Red Star:

Over the past 50 years, my art has been a gradual and steady evolution of technique, color, form and intensity of emotion, a maturity of life experience.

– Kevin Red Star (Montana Quarterly)

Kevin Red Star
Kevin Red Star: “By putting a face on the indigenous people of Montana, he is helping preserve their history and traditions.”

Kevin Red Star grew up on the Crow reservation near Lodge Grass. Both his father and mother modeled art as a way to express cultural traditions. His father, Wallace Red Star, was a musician and encouraged his children to try playing various instruments.

Kevin, the third of nine children, chose several before settling on drums. But his first and strongest passion would always be drawing and painting.

His mother, Amy Bright Wings was a bead artist and ceremonial clothing designer. From her he learned about the power of color and pattern, as well as perseverance and attention to detail.

When Red Star was a junior in high school, he was invited to join the inaugural class of 150 students from 80 tribes nationwide at the Institute of American Indian Art (IAIA) in Sante Fe, NM. There the curriculum emphasized tribal tradition, world art history and current trends.

For the first time he lived away from home and away from the Crow Reservation. With its outstanding roster of art instructors and the school’s emphasis on cultural representation, Red Star shined. AIAI proved to be the springboard that would launch Red Star’s career and help continue his lifelong connection to his people and his culture.

Red Star and some of his friends in their graduating class continued their studies at the San Francisco Art Institute before embarking on their careers. They attracted immediate notice in New York and Paris, as well as established art centers throughout the United States. And they went on to change the face of modern Indian art.

In 1987 Red Star returned to Montana permanently and settled in Roberts, near Red Lodge. There he produces paintings at his large studio, continuing the work that depicts the old Crow ways and the vibrancy of life lived on the high plains of Montana.

“Red Star’s larger-than-life, color-filled canvasses leave an indelible image on the minds and souls of all who see them,” writes the artist’s representative Abigail Hornik, who nominated him for the Governor’s Arts Award. “By putting a face on the indigenous people of Montana, he is helping preserve their history and traditions.”

Kevin Red Star: Crow Horse Tipi #2
Crow culture has steadily influenced and inspired Red Star’s work, as in “Crow Horse Tipi #2.”Photo © Kevin Red Star

His work is included in permanent collections in prestigious institutions such as the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of the American Indian, Whitney Museum of Western Art, Heard Museum, Denver Art Museum, the Eiteljorg Museum and the National Museum of the American Indian. He recently received the Museum Purchase Award at the Autry Museum exhibit, “Masters of the American West,” and his work has been featured in special exhibitions in France, Belgium, Germany, China, and Japan.

In a career now spanning a half-century, more than 100 large-scale exhibitions have featured the celebrated artist’s works on canvas and paper, including 40 solo shows. In Montana alone he has shown at the Hockaday Center for the Arts in Kalispell, the Museum of the Rockies in Bozeman, the Yellowstone Art Museum in Billings, the C.M. Russell Museum in Great Falls, the Carbon County Arts Guild and Depot Gallery in Red Lodge, the Holter Museum of Art in Helena, and the Missoula Art Museum in Missoula.

In 1997, he received an Honorary Doctorate from the Rocky Mountain College in Billings, and he was inducted into the Russell Skull Society in 2014 by the C.M. Russell Museum. He is also the subject of a large-format art book, Kevin Red Star: Crow Indian Artist, published in 2014 and winner in the multi-cultural non-fiction category of a 2015 USA Best Book Award.

Sally McIntosh, former proprietor of McIntosh Art Company in Billings, remembers when Red Star volunteered at an art camp she organized for kids at Rocky Mountain College. “He painted alongside the young artists, talked to them about art process, and at the end of the day gave each of them a signed business card with his phone number on it. ‘Call me anytime’ he told the 8-14 year olds and he meant it. The kids felt like they had just been with the most famous artist in the land.”

Through his travels across the country and internationally, he remains an emissary of the Crow people and the state of Montana.

Virginia Bryan, director of ArtWalk Downtown Billings, describes him as “a man generous of heart and spirit … Through his fine work, he has brought Apsáalooke history and stories to life and shared them with the world. He is an ambassador for the very best of Montana.”

He also mentors young artists who come to his studio for tips and encouragement. One of his mentees, Red Lodge artist Ben Pease, praises Red Star’s ability to “empower, inspire and create.”

“Kevin has been creating for over seven decades, while always exemplifying Apsáalooke culture in Montana, and on both national and international platforms,” writes Pease. “In recognizing the expansive list of permanent collections and exhibitions that Red Star’s accolades carry, one begins to comprehend the sheer historical provenance of the artist and his ability to constantly produce, persevere, represent and overcome.”

– Kristi Niemeyer