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North Dakota artist combines tradition and technology

Nelda Schrupp, Amulet Form #313 with Audio Esthetics, 1993, 24 gauge sterling silver,...
Nelda Schrupp, Amulet Form #313 with Audio Esthetics, 1993, 24 gauge sterling silver, horsehair, and deer antler, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Gift of the artist, 1997.97(Gene Young Photographer | Smithsonian American Art Museum)
Published: Nov. 20, 2020 at 9:35 PM CST
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BISMARCK, N.D. (KFYR) - We can’t think of America without thinking of the 562 Native American tribes who lived on and loved the land before the settlers arrived. A member of the Nakota tribe in Canada brought her heritage and skill to North Dakota years ago and now her work educates and delights people nationwide.

Nelda Schrupp was raised in a modest log cabin on the White Bear First Nations reservation in southern Saskatchewan, Canada with her 10 older siblings.

At a young age, knew she loved the arts, remarking, “I never was much for academia.” She says she wasn’t quite sure how to channel her creativity.

“I thought an artist was a painter or a sculptor and I thought ‘oh, I’ll never be anything like that’,” said Schrupp.

She started making doll clothes and helping her mom patch her brothers’ jeans before developing a love for art classes at the University of North Dakota, where she says she was soon taking more art classes than academic ones. After struggling to find her voice, Schrupp narrowed her focus to metalwork.

”My creative juices just started to flow,” reminisced Schrupp, thinking of the encouragement she received from her professors to express something from her past.

She now makes jewelry through a proprietary process she calls “Construct. Destruct. Reconstruct,” in which she takes a simple form, cuts it down into fragments, and puts it back together with a different outlook, saying: ”I use the essence of their former selves and combined that with today’s technology.”

But she adds one special touch: “One of our traditional elements which is sound,” said Schrupp.

Lynn Contway, the Legacy Keeper and wife of fellow artist and one of Schrupp’s dear friends, Jay Contway, owns several of Schrupp’s pieces, and said, “everything has a little rattle,” as she demonstrated the beautiful sound.

Shcrupp said in Native American culture, “the rattle was used for giving names, healing, and blessing ceremonies.”

That healing element is also apparent in another one of her works of art: jingle dresses.

Anya Montiel, the Curator of American and Native American Women’s Art and Craft at Smithsonian’s Renwick Gallery, said those are dresses that feature metal cones, usually made from snuff can lids, that clink together.

“In the powwow arena, it’s very much a prayer. So, if someone is sick, sometimes people ask jingle dress dancers to come out into the arena and to dance,” said Montiel.

Montiel continued, “for a long time, American museums didn’t include Native American art because it was seen as ethnic graphic.”

That’s something Montiel said the industry has been trying to change, adding, “this is American art.” Smithsonian’s Renwick Gallery houses two pieces of Schrupp’s work, the first installed in 1997.

Schrupp’s work is always evolving and she’s now created “Spirit Dresses” in memoriam of missing and murdered indigenous women, something she says is a real, ongoing problem among tribal communities.

“I’ve had friends that have went missing,” said Schrupp, “I want to keep that traditional thread running through all of my pieces.”Her work is meant to honor her ancestors, remember those who were lost, and bring joy to all who see and possess her pieces.

Schrupp is still creating artwork in her home in Lakota, North Dakota, and says while she’s slowing down, she’s honored that her work will live on in museums and homes across the country.

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