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Duluth painter named artist-in-residence in Santa Fe

Jonathan Thunder autographs "Gookookooo (Owl) Listens to a Message from the Blood Moon" for Michelle LeBeau, who purchased a print. This title is in the AICHO 2016 calendar. (Photo by Michelle LeBeau)1 / 4
Two unfinished pieces sit on easels in Jonathan Thunder's studio apartment in the Washington Studios Artist Cooperative. The painting on the right is his red rabbit painting. The painting on the right is Thunder's experiment with art deco style. The painting on the left is an exploration in intuitive painting. (Photo by Teri Cadeau)2 / 4
Jonathan Thunder illustrated the story book on the left, "Naadamaading," and the comic book on the right, "Deer Woman: A Vignette." "Naadamaading" is an educational tool which teaches the Ojibwemowin language through traditional stories. "Deer Woman" is a comic book based on the true stories of indigenous women. (Photo by Teri Cadeau)3 / 4
With paint on his shirt and a sketch in his hand, Jonathan Thunder visits with the Budgeteer News to explain his plans for the rest of red rabbit painting. The painting will be shown in the exhibit "Singing Our History: People and Places of Red Lake Nation" at the University of Minnesota Katherine E. Nash Gallery next week. (Photo by Teri Cadeau)4 / 4

A Duluth artist has received the opportunity to be an artist-in-residence in February and March at the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe, N.M. Jonathan Thunder is a painter and digital media artist living in Duluth. He is a former student of the IAIA and received a BFA in Visual Effects and Motion Graphics from the Art Institutes International Minnesota.

"It's a nice opportunity," he said of the Santa Fe artist-in-residency.

While there he will receive a stipend and be given studio hours to work on his art, present a couple of gallery talks and exhibit the work he produced while there. His residency begins Feb. 19.

Born in Red Lake and a member of the Red Lake Nation, Thunder was raised in the Twin Cities and moved to Duluth in 2014 for a "change of scenery."

"I love living by the lake. The lake is super-inspiring and humbling and really a kind of spiritual food," Thunder said.

Thunder lives in the Washington Studios Artist Cooperative, which he says has been a productive place artistically speaking. "I mean, just knowing they're around is cool enough, but when you can talk to them about art and painting, that's super-helpful," Thunder said. "All the creative energy, for me, just makes it feel like home."

Thunder's main medium is acrylic painting. His work has been featured in many state, regional and national exhibitions, as well as in local and international publications. Thunder's paintings explore personal themes of identity, life transitions, internal dialogue and self-transformation.

"A lot of my paintings are sort of vignettes from my life. I try to give them a kind of dreamlike quality," Thunder said.

Thunder waits for inspiration to strike for his paintings. Waiting "can be maddening sometimes" but when there's no inspiration, "the paintings are kind of hollow," he said.

"Having deadlines for shows always helps," Thunder said.

This week, Thunder is finishing up a few pieces for an exhibit at the Katherine E. Nash Gallery at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis. The exhibit is titled "Singing Our History: People and Places of Red Lake Nation." This exhibit includes the work of other artists and photographers. One of the pieces Thunder plans to exhibit is an exploration in intuitive painting. During the Budgeteer interview, the unfinished piece featured a little red rabbit on one side of the canvas in front of a rich brown background.

He said had created the background and wasn't sure what to put in the background until one day he envisioned a little red rabbit.

"I figure he could use a friend or two, so I might add some more characters around him representing different attitudes," Thunder said. "We'll see where it goes."

Thunder works to support community organizations. For example, this year he donated a piece to the American Indian Community Housing Organization (AICHO) calendar. He also illustrated a comic book based on the true stories of indigenous women called "Deer Woman: A Vignette," written by Elizabeth LaPensee. Part of the proceeds of the book go to Arming Sisters Reawakening Warriors, an organization which provides self-defense classes for women.

"The comic itself deals with themes of sexual assault, male predators and human trafficking. It's a serious topic, so we wanted the profits to go to a serious organization. It's also cool because it gave me a chance to sharpen my ink-drawing skills," Thunder said.

Thunder plans to have a gallery showing of the comic book later this spring at AICHO. He's had a few shows in the Gimaajii gallery in the past few years. The Gimaajii gallery is in Trepanier Hall within the AICHO building, 202 W. Second St.

"I personally really like his work. I think it's a very unique perspective. He has a sense of humor that comes out in his work," said AICHO staff member Michelle LeBeau.

Thunder also has experience working with art students. He was the featured artist at the University of Wisconsin-Superior American Indian Art Scholarship Exhibit in 2009. As a professional American Indian artist, Thunder gave a presentation to the high school students submitting to the show.The winner of the show received a scholarship to the University of Wisconsin-Superior.

"His work is very interesting and intriguing. The students really connected with him because he was a younger artist so they could connect to his work," said Ivy Vainio, the multicultural student support services specialist who coordinated the show. "Since then, every time he has a show in the area, I try to go and support him as an artist and a friend."

Thunder will leave for Santa Fe in a few weeks. In the meantime, his work can be found in the Washington Studio Gallery, in the AICHO 2016 calendar and online at The "Deer Woman" comic book is available at

Teri Cadeau

Teri Cadeau is a reporter for the Budgeteer.

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