Minnesota museum exhibit includes Mitchell artist’s artworkLyle Miller's art career took another step recently when his painting “A Meeting of the Grandfathers” was selected for the Minnesota Historical Society’s exhibit about the U.S.-Dakota War of 1862.
By: Marcus Traxler, The Daily Republic
Lyle Miller is starting to realize his talents as an artist, and others are continuing to take notice.
The Mitchell resident’s career took another step recently when his painting “A Meeting of the Grandfathers” was selected for the Minnesota Historical Society’s exhibit about the U.S.-Dakota War of 1862.
The exhibit, located at the Minnesota History Center in St. Paul, looks at the 150th anniversary of the six-month war between the Dakota nation and the U.S. government. The war claimed the lives of between 400 and 600 white civilians and soldiers and unknown numbers from the Dakota tribes. The war was the first fighting between the Dakota nation and the U.S. government.
Miller’s painting stands prominently in the exhibit, which opened June 30. It is the last item visitors see when they leave.
“The whole process has been really great, and I never thought it would take off like this,” he said.
Miller’s first professional success came in 2009 when his painting “The Taking of Honor” appeared in the March 2009 issue of Cowboys and Indians magazine. It proved to him he could paint at a higher level.
An admitted introvert, he took to art at age 7. He bounced around from school to school, endured his parents’ divorce, and dropped out of high school three times before marrying his wife Crystal when he was a senior in high school.
He went to Dakota Wesleyan University in Mitchell, graduating with an arts degree and minors in secondary education and psychology.
The inspiration to launch his art career came when his wife was sick with cancer.
“She said, ‘If you’re going to do those and hang them in the house, they aren’t going to be seen by anyone,’ and so I did more paintings like that and they’ve ended up all over the world,” he said, adding that his art has gone as far as Barcelona, Spain.
His wife died of cancer on Aug. 24, 2006, and his mother Roberta, who was known for her star quilts, died four years later to the day. He said that was a sign for him to continue with art and honor their legacies.
Earl Gutnik, the art director for exhibits at the Minnesota History Center, said the art selection process included six judges who received 12 packages from various artists in the Upper Midwest. He said applying artists also had to submit a personal statement, and Miller’s connection to the Dakota nation — he’s a member of the Crow Creek Sioux Tribe, which includes people of Dakota ancestry — gave him an edge.
“It was so powerful and very different from what the other entries looked like,” Gutnik said. “Lyle lives in the 21st century, and it reflected his image on the world.”
The exhibit will be open through June 2013. The Minnesota Historical Society paid Miller $3,000 for his original painting.
“They had to like it or they would send it back,” he said. “Instead, they loved it and sent me a check.”
Miller, 47, teaches art at the Crow Creek Tribal School in Stephan and has also been involved with teaching the Lakota language.
Miller said he commonly uses a bright light in the middle of his paintings and then a solid, strong color on the outside; in this case, he used blue.
“It signifies the light at the end of the tunnel. It took a while to create that type of gradient, but when it’s done, it looks great,” Miller said, who said he also portrayed the “humblecha,” or vision quest, in the painting.
He drew 38 warriors at the bottom of the painting to represent the Indian men hanged in Mankato, Minn., as a result of the war. He said it’s important to remember the 264 who were pardoned as well.
Miller said he wasn’t sure his painting was what the historical society wanted. Gutnik said it couldn’t have fit any better.
“He has such an emotional connection, and with his role in the Lakota lifestyle and knowing the way of life, that just made it work,” Gutnik said. “He was terrific to work with and we would love to work with Lyle again.”
Miller has set up a page on Facebook under the name Mystic Horse Art Studio, where he displays his art. He hopes to have a full-fledged studio someday.
“You can’t lose sight of your dreams,” he said.