Published on August 1, 2012 by Amy
Patrick DesJarlait, Sr. (1921–1972) was an Ojibwa artist, known for his watercolor paintings and his commercial art work.
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Born to Solomon and Elizabeth Blake Desjarlait, he was the fourth of seven children. He is a member of the Red Lake Ojibwa. As a child Patrick spent a lot of his time wandering through the woods alone or with friends. The experiences that he had in the forests around his home often became the subject matter of his drawings that he had done as a child.
After his mother died when he was seven years old Patrick spent most of his time in boarding schools in Red Lake and Pipestone, Minnesota. Red Lake High School is where he first developed an interest in an art career, with the encouragement from his English teacher, Miss Ross. After completing his high school education, he went on to study art at Arizona State College in Phoenix.
A year later, during World War II, DesJarlait entered government service, where he was sent to teach an art workshop at a nearby Japanese Relocation Camp. “In the observation what was happening to the Japanese people in America which reminded him what had happened to his own people. Months later Patrick joined the navy which sent him to San Diego, California there working with artist from Walt Disney Studios he worked animated and produced films for the Navy.”
After World War II ended, Patrick returned home to Red Lake where he focused more on his artwork. A short time later, the DesJarlait family moved to the Twin Cities. Patrick found employment as a commercial artist. “Because of his experience of working with films he was chosen to make an animated television commercial for Hamm’s Brewery. Soon, the comical and gentle Hamm’s bear he created became a familiar part in the lives of television audiences of the 1950′s.” “By creating the Hamm’s bear commercial artist this opened him up to do more commercial art where he created the Land O’ Lakes butter maiden.”
His individual style of painting was very different from his commercial works it is also different from studio style that was being produced World War II. The subject matter of the work that was being produced was Red Lake Ojibwa and their modern lives. His watercolor paintings had a distinct style that was all his own. His figures in many of his paintings are abstracted and many attribute his influences from Cubism and Mexican Muralism.
Instead of using his watercolor paints in washes he applied the paint by itself right to the surface or the paper. In his piece, “Wild Rice Time” a male and female stylized figures are collecting wild rice in birch bark containers. Patrick’s use of arced lines and a limited palette engage the viewer to study the piece carefully. “For each of his paintings there were several sketches to find one that captures the scenes portrayed the best.”
“Later in his life He wanted to combine art with education. His dream was to teach non-Indian people about the beauty and dignity of the Ojibwa traditions. To keep with his dream he traveled throughout Minnesota talking to students about art. In doing these talks they had an impact on his children Robert, Patrick, Jr. and Larry, whom are actively engaged in art careers.”