For Immediate Release
Contact: Krystl Louwagie 
Southwest MN Arts Council
114 North 3rd Street, Marshall
Southwest Minnesota Arts Council Awards local artist and arts educator totaling $5,500  
2018 Prairie Star Awarded to Travis Erickson of Pipestone

The Southwest Minnesota Arts Council is pleased to announce Travis Erickson as the recipient of the 2018 Prairie Star Award, an award which is given out every other year for $5,000. The Prairie Star Award acknowledges a person whose body of work best exemplifies the highest quality of art in the 18 counties of the SMAC region. Travis is a fourth generation Dakota pipestone carver and quarrier who has been honing his artistic skills in this medium for nearly 40 years; he started at 10 years old. He currently works at the Pipestone National Monument as a demonstrator for the Pipestone Indian Shrine Association.

Left to right: SMAC Executive Director Nicole DeBoer, Pipestone County SMAC Board Representative Erica Volkir, Prairie Star Award recipient Travis Erickson, and Lisaann Evenson.

For those that are not familiar with the medium, Myron Koets, mayor of Pipestone, explains, "the process requires that the pipe maker quarry the carving stock from under the hard Sioux quartzite stone, which can vary in depth of five to fifteen feet above the soft red stone, by hand, as no automated or power tools are allowed. Once the soft red stone is uncovered, Travis begins the slow and tedious process of turning a raw piece of stone into a traditional pipe...his dedication to this art form is not only reflected in his longevity, but to the amount of hard physical work required of a traditional Native American pipe maker." David Rambow, fellow artist as a wet plate photographer, further explains that in order to quarry effectively, Travis must possess both "the physical stamina and endurance of a construction worker in wielding a heavy sledge hammer against hard Sioux Quartzite to extract the pipestone. Once the pipestone is obtained, that brute force is exchanged for the technical artistry with which he carefully hand carves works of extreme delicacy from the soft pipestone." Rambow adds, "Not many artists could balance this rare combination of talents." Travis says that he believes quarrying and carving helps a person to look inside oneself.
Erica Volkir, Executive Director of the Pipestone Area Chamber of Commerce, nominated Travis for this award. Erica explained her reasons for nominating Travis:
Travis was born and raised in Pipestone and he remains here to this day, "this is his home and his art reflects that as seen in his choice of animals, plants, and Native American symbols associated with the region." Even Travis' medium comes from southwest Minnesota, "it is one of the most unique geological resources found in our area and he transforms it into art." Travis has so much respect for the resource and medium he works with that he has even developed a new form of art from the pipestone that he refers to as Dust Art. Travis collects the dust that accumulates from carving and mixes it to create a "pipestone plastic". Travis' background of working at Bayliner Marine made him familiar with the chemistry to achieve his desired results. Erica explains, "this way, there is no waste and Travis truly uses all of the scared stone." He creates jewelry and other objects by pouring the mixture into prepared molds, and removing the form once it hardens. He plans to sell his pieces around the town of Pipestone, at the Pipestone County Museum, the non-profit group Keepers of the Sacred Tradition of Pipemakers, and possibly the hospital gift shop and Liberty Pawn on Main Street.
Travis and Nicole at the Pipestone National Monument in front of Travis cultural demonstrator booth, inside the visitor center.

Erica continued with her reasons for Travis' nomination, saying his "artwork represents a continuation and an elevation of a traditional art form associated with southwest Minnesota for thousands of years-pipestone carving." Bud Johnston, a fellow carver, has worked with Travis for over 30 years; they have also worked together for The Keepers of the Sacred Tradition of Pipemakers. Bud said that Travis is "one of the few pipestone pipe makers that is truly an artist, he does a lot of custom one of a kind pipestone objects." Travis said, "I explore and stretch my art through carving new animals all the time." When asked what his favorite animal to carve is, he answered: "One I haven't carved yet."
Erica Volkir also says that Travis is an "ambassador for this region of his art form to more than 60,000 visitors a year through the Pipestone National Monument where he has been a Cultural and Artistic Demonstrator since 2000. He is concerned about cultivating the next generation of artists in his medium. Travis thinks beyond himself to do everything he can to ensure the longevity of this traditional art form." He has mentored several quarry carvers, and even demonstrated for and taught Senator Amy Klobuchar to carve pipestone. He's demonstrated countless times in Pipestone, but also at the National Eagle Center in Wabasha, MN, in Iowa at the Effigy Mounds National Monument, and even internationally in England at a museum in York! Myron Koets said, "What separates Travis from most other pipe makers is his desire to share his art from and to transfer the techniques of this art from to others. Almost daily, you are able to find him at the Pipestone National Monument conducting demonstrations as to how raw stone is converted to a pipe."

Original design by Travis.
Erica closed with, "And finally, in terms of his technical merit, Travis is often held up by his peers as THE standard of excellence. Not only has he mastered the traditional designs of his ancestors but his modern original works are admired and have received critical distinction." Travis was commissioned by the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C. The Smithsonian also sent a film crew to Pipestone to interview him and make a 360 degree iMax film of Travis' process. He was later featured in "Pipestone: An Unbroken Legacy", an award winning documentary that is now featured daily at the Pipestone National Monument as their interpretive film. His pipes and other artwork have been commissioned and sold world-wide. Bud Johnston acknowledges his abilities by saying, "his skill is one of the best in the entire world." David Rambow agrees, "I have never worked with a person who gives as much attention to detail and approaches  each project with as much enthusiasm as Travis does...[he] is by far the most talented living artist in the medium of pipestone carving." When presented with the idea of being an artist with the highest quality of work, Travis said, "I never considered myself an artist although I have had people that call me a master of pipestone carving. I am seasoned by the enjoyment of creating something with my hands."

David Rambow closed his letter of recommendation with this: "He loves people, works hard, and always tries to lift the spirits and talents of those around him. Additionally, he is a very humble and compassionate artist. Given his lifetime dedication to the extremely difficult and delicate form of art and the positive characteristics he represents from our region, I can think of no one more deserving of the Prairie Star Award." After deliberating over many deserving nominations, the Southwest Minnesota Arts Council board of directors agreed, and we are honored to recognize Travis with this prestigious award. Travis' reaction to receiving the award was "I'm still at WOW! I was never looking for the recognition. It makes you stop and think about how important your work is." Travis' words of advice were, "Keep exploring who you are!"

Please join our board, staff, members, and volunteers in honoring Travis Erickson for his contribution to the arts in southwestern Minnesota. The award will be officially presented to Travis at the SW MN Arts Council Annual Celebration on Saturday, September 29, 2018 at Off the Green restaurant and bar in Ortonville, MN. We hope to see you there to celebrate our region's arts and artists with you! Watch our website for more information on the celebration. To learn more about the Prairie Star Award and past recipients, click here.
LeAnn Atchison of Clara City receives 2018 Prairie Disciple Award

The Southwest Minnesota Arts Council is pleased to announce LeAnn Atchison of Clara City as the recipient of the 2018 Prairie Disciple Award for $500, which acknowledges a person - this year, an arts educator - who has been instrumental in promoting the arts in the 18-county area of southwestern Minnesota. LeAnn started her teaching career in Raymond, MN, in the fall of 1983. Eventually the school combined with Maynard and Clara City to form the MACCRAY public school system. LeAnn has been teaching at MACCRAY for 35 years and counting. Melissa Sparks, LeAnn's nominator and the current principal at MACCRAY, explained that LeAnn was always proactive and resourceful from the very beginning.  She was charged with developing a comprehensive art program with little to no budget. Her first year teaching, LeAnn jumped right in and entered her students in their first art contest through the Willmar radio station, Q102. Some of the students won, resulting in $1,000 of cash prizes for the school! LeAnn used that money to help fund the start of the art program and has never stopped finding creative solutions to support her student's creativity since. In fact, even a partial list of grants she's brought into her life and classroom is extensive: 1996 Comprehensive Arts Planning Program Grant, 2006 Best Buy Teach Award, 2010 Minnesota Beatle Project, 2010 ACE Grant with colleagues Diane Holien and Kathy Stalnaker, 2012 SMAC Individual Artist Grant, 2017 Partner of a Legacy Grant to produce artwork for the city of Willmar, and numerous artist in residency grants.

Melissa Sparks said, "LeAnn has reached out and touched the lives of all who entered her classroom, regardless of their level of artistic ability." Many of her students went onto pursue the arts as a career, Jeremy Holien is one such student, who is a State Visual & Media Arts Education Specialist through Perpich Center for Arts Education and the Minnesota Department of Education. Jeremy said "Over many years, LeAnn has fostered the development of many successful artists and arts educators, often serving as the catalyst for significant professional and personal contributions to the field. LeAnn has tremendous influence on students. Personally, LeAnn's encouragement expanded my aspirations and led me to make arts education my career. I attribute much of my professional success to LeAnn's early influence, depth of knowledge, superior instructional skills and overall support."

Carye VanDerPol Mahoney, former student of LeAnn and now an artist and illustrator, said LeAnn "encouraged and nurtured that creative spark in all of us; she showed us the value of creating and expressing ourselves. When the school had concerts, she made sure our artwork was also on display, our very first gallery experience." Carye goes on to say that LeAnn encouraged students, including herself, to enter works in competitions and to attend arts enrichment camps. Carye attended an arts camp through Minnesota State University in Moorhead and her experiences led her to study art there after graduating high school. She earned her BFA in illustration and has worked in the creative arts ever since.

Carrie Ammermann, Associate Creative Art Director in Advertising at Baker Street Advertising and former student of LeAnn's, said "of all the teachers that have shaped my journey, there is one who I must give the greatest amount of gratitude for her influence and guidance. Her name is LeAnn Atchison. LeAnn has touched countless lives through her work. As a teacher, she is patient, empathetic, engaged, resourceful, open-minded, and nurturing. LeAnn's art room was a sanctuary for me, a community where I was encouraged to flourish and recognized for my achievements, no matter how small....LeAnn has instilled in me a lifetime hunger for the arts and I carry it with me every day."
This past fall LeAnn was nominated and selected by her peers as the Art Educators of Minnesota's Secondary Art Educator of the Year, speaking again to how instrumental she has been in promoting the arts for our region. Carrie Ammermann said above everything else, LeAnn has a passion and enthusiasm for teaching art, and that's "demonstrated year after year by her inherently caring attitude, her ability to trigger receptiveness to new techniques and an uncanny knack for coaching her students in meaningful ways."

When we asked LeAnn what she wanted to share she responded with saying that "everyone is capable of enjoying art and finding an area where they can excel in. It is so rewarding to see students develop their abilities and strengthen their appreciation for art. I hope to create a passion that they will use for the rest of their life and they will have a lifelong participation in the arts." SMAC believes the response she's gotten from her students and peers through this nomination and award proves she is doing just that.

Jeremy Holien summed up his support of her nomination with this: "LeAnn is engaging, knowledgeable, and a superb advocate for the arts. Based on her qualifications, skills, and professional contributions, she is most deserving of this award and I highly recommend her." SMAC's board of directors agrees, and we are proud to recognize her contribution to promoting the arts in our region. The public is invited to celebrate with LeAnn as she is publicly acknowledged for this award at SMAC's Annual Celebration of the Arts and Artists of our region on September 29, 2018 in Ortonville at the Off the Green restaurant and bar. Watch our website for more details on the celebration! To learn more about the Prairie Disciple Award and past recipients, click here.

Look Forward to:
  • Brothers 2: Don Kanten (above) and Lee Kanten (lower left)
    Open Art Studio Tours in Ortonville
  • Live entertainment from Brothers 2
  • Social Hour & meal provided by Off the Green: Restaurant & Bar
  • Presentation awards to Prairie Star Travis Erickson & Prairie Disciple LeAnn Atchison
  • SMAC's Spirit of the Region raffle baskets

Watch our website for more updates and your mailbox for the invite!
If you would like to confirm you are on our mailing list for the invite, please email or call 800-622-5284.
All SMAC award nominations are reviewed, scored, and approved by the SMAC board of directors. All positions are volunteer. If you are interested in serving on the SMAC board, please visit our website at to learn more!

If you would like to learn more about SMAC grants and awards, please visit our website listed below. You can also call, email, or visit our office with any questions.
Southwest Minnesota Arts Council
PO Box 55
114 N 3rd St
Marshall, MN 56258

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