Published on June 22, 2014 by Carol
Thomas Haukaas (Rosebud Lakota Sioux) is hoping his artwork will break a few molds this year.
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Haukaas, who is a First Peoples Fund Artist in Business Leadership fellow, creates paintings using wax pigments. The fellowship he received this year, which helps train entrepreneurial artists as they create and operate art businesses, will help Haukaas promote his work and provide funding for new educational opportunities.
“As the old line goes, ‘It takes money to make money,’” Haukaas said. “It is a fact of life. Well-placed publicity and presence makes a huge difference for all artists, not just Native artists. But most people in this country have no idea that our people also engage in contemporary arts. Many relegate to romantic notions of classic art forms and media. Exploration is not considered.”
Haukaas, who has been an artist for more than two decades, recently attended educational classes in layering, multiple media and encaustics—in other words, he’s exploring ways to create art in new and different ways. Encaustic painting, he explained, is also known as hot wax painting and involves using heated beeswax and colored pigments. The paste is applied to a surface such as wood or canvas.
With the fellowship from First Peoples Fund, Haukaas will enroll in classes with Elena De La Ville, a teacher of encaustics at the Ringling School of Art in Sarasota, Florida. The tutorials will allow him to learn more encaustic techniques, including preparation of his own pigments.
“We, the Lakota, did not use wax and pigments as a painting media—but why limit ourselves?” he asked. “Why not explore other media and forms of self expression, especially if it gives the artist and the people a voice?”
Haukaas said he is determined to produce quality encaustic forms of art that incorporate some, if not all, aspects of various traditional arts he has made throughout his life. But he said he wants to do so by creating multimedia pieces.
The biggest challenge he has right now as an artist, he said, is learning how to manage the business side of his work. And perhaps more than anything else, that is why he is grateful for the Artist in Business Leadership Fellowship.
“All artisans who hand make their work are the quintessential small businesses,” he said. “We have limited production capabilities and much time expended. Mechanized forms of art, or art made by groups, not single authors, make more art, and the end of the day, more money.”
Translating hard work into a thriving business is difficult, he acknowledged.
“It is one thing to have good products that excite collectors and museums, but it is another to have a financially-viable business, especially in the recent economic downturn,” he said.
Haukaas has invested more time and energy into online marketing after noticing that art markets, and the way customers purchase art, has changed over the years.
“The heady days when collectors threw their money at the artist are over,” he said.
In an effort to try something new, he recently started a Facebook page to showcase his art and provide a forum for purchases and critiques.
“It was a process of self discovery for me,” he said.
Haukaas continues to share and sell his artwork at two shows a year—the Santa Fe Indian Market in New Mexico, and the National Museum of the American Indian Winter Market in New York City.
This year, he’s banking on it being a good one—honing the skills he needs to do quality artwork and arming himself with more knowledge on how to run his business.
“I want to be a much better business person,” he said. “I never thought I would ever say that, but learning the business of art is essential for every artist’s survival. This is my first fellowship or grant, ever. I am very thankful.”