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Pony painter aims for future as artist
20 March 2006
By Dennis J. Neumann, United Tribes News

      Christine Ross intends to ride her painted pony into the future. What she hopes to encounter on the journey is a busy time of ideas and projects that promise to fill up a career using her talent and skill as an artist.

      Ross (Three Affiliated), a student at United Tribes Technical College, is one of 30 area artists who painted images onto life-sized, fiberglass horses that will be auctioned off as a fundraiser for two non-profit organizations.

Christine Ross and horse
Christine Ross, a student at United Tribes Technical College, painted this life-sized, fiberglass model to resemble an American Paint Horse for a benefit fundraiser. UTN photo Dennis J. Neumann

      "It was a challenge," said Ross, who hand painted the horse in her apartment living room over the course of two months. "This was my first major painting project. I was more of a pencil person. Now I know I can paint."

      Her unpaid contribution to the "Catch a Painted Pony" project is colored like an American Paint Horse, a breed revered by American Indians.

      This 'war pony' is adorned with symbols - a circle around its eye and thunder stripes on its legs - that would have been on horses of her Hidatsa tribe, and other tribes, during a time of buffalo hunts and battles.

      "This kind of work is what used to be done, what a horse looked like when it was used on a buffalo hunt. They put on signs and symbols for good luck and success."

      Over its back is draped a hide onto which Ross has painted a circular scene of the buffalo hunt from a drawing made by her 12-year-old daughter.


      "Kathryn is very artistic at such a young age. To honor her I wanted to name the horse after her Indian name (ida-hi hubash). It means 'Good Spirit.'"

       Edwin Loe Elementary School in New Town, ND, translated her daughter's Indian name, for which Ross is grateful.

      Ross is the youngest of 10 children in the family of Julia Bluestone Grinnell, Parshall, ND, and the late Harry Grady. Her mother sparked an interest in her for doing artwork while growing up on the Fort Berthold Reservation.

      She graduated from White Shield High School and studied art education at Minot State College. Later Ross enrolled in the United Tribes art program and won a logo design contest for the Mayo Clinic's Native American Cancer Research Center. The image is still in use, posted on the prestigious medical center's website.

      In 1998 she completed the UTTC art certificate program but never did anything with it, she said. Her reason for returning in 2005 was to learn computer graphics.

      "I'm motivated differently now. I'm what you would call an older than average student. I'm 42."

      In addition to her daughter, she also has a son, Richard, age 17.

      When she graduates in May with an Associate of Applied Science Degree, Ross intends to harness her training and experience to a job in graphic design or printing. In her spare time she aims to travel to art shows and do what she loves.

Christine Ross and headdress

      "Art is my thing. I draw; I sculpt; I sew. I make things. There's not enough time in a day to get it all done."

      Before her return to UTTC, she saw her artwork as an activity she enjoyed but not something she could make a living at. "Now I have the training and skills to market it. I never knew about how to do proposals, set up consignments or write a business plan. Now I do."

      For teaching her the business side of artwork, she credits her instructor Art-Art Marketing Program Director Wayne Pruse.

      "My goal is to be known for my artwork, to have a good reputation. Notoriety is important to me."

      That's why she signed on immediately when Pruse suggested the horse project.

      "I had an interest in this kind of project for a long time. I love horses. I grew up around 'em at Fort Berthhold. I liked to ride 'em. Next to the eagle, they're the prettiest animal."

      Not surprisingly "Good Spirit" incorporates eagle imagery. On one side are eagles in flight and on perches and a close-up view of one in profile showing its yellow beak and steely eye.


      Eagles were the subject of a lengthy and artistically challenging public sculpture project she was involved in last summer for a Bismarck city park.

      "I never drew the eagle so much before that. I did the research about them. I know how they look, how they move."

      Her sculpture of an eagle coming in for a landing benefited from one of her other artistic pursuits. Under the guidance of UTTC Tribal Arts Instructor Butch Thunder Hawk, Ross became adept at making feathered headdresses. She makes them as art pieces, not sacred objects, by fashioning turkey feathers to look like eagle feathers.

      Her skill in doing so was recognized as a cultural asset for the tribe.

      "I was not able to work with real eagle feathers. But because of a ceremony, I am able to do that now. I have the right to work with eagle feathers and to fix items that need fixing and repair."

      Ross plans to have a booth, showcasing her array of artistic talents, at the Lewis and Clark signature event hosted by Three Affiliated Tribes this summer. She's all set for the event; she even has income goals for it in her business plan.

      "I can't wait to be done with school. I've learned so much from Wayne, Butch and Justin [LeBeaux, Graphic Arts instructor]. But I want to get to work."

      In the near future, Ross looks forward to attending an April 7 reception for the horse artists. "Good Spirit" and the rest of the "Painted Pony" herd are scheduled to be auctioned off in August with the proceeds going to Easter Seals/Goodwill North Dakota and the Child's Hope Learning Center.

      Ross will be set free to pursue her promising artist's journey after UTTC's graduation ceremony, May 6.


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