Art gifts

Kearney Priest Says Lakota Sioux Art “Feeds My Spirit”

KEARNEY, Neb. (AP) – Father Art Faesser considers his living room to be his sanctuary. A small crucifix hangs on the wall.

The same goes for an elaborate Sioux robe, cradle, drums, buffalo head, and dozens of authentic pieces from the Lakota Sioux Reservation in South Dakota.

These artifacts are spread throughout every room of his house. He has been acquiring them for 30 years from indigenous Lakota Sioux artists, because they convey a spiritual meaning.

“In all of my experiences in the priesthood, seeing what we had done to the natives gave me a great passion to find small ways to elevate their sense of dignity and human worth,” Faesser, a priest at the retreat that attends St. James Catholic Church, says.


Father Art likes to say, “This drum beat got me into it from an early age.

In the spring of 1952, he was only 3 years old when he, his brother Vic, 5, and their immigrant parents got off a train in Ogallala with about $ 25 in cash, two suitcases and a wooden trunk built by his. father, a carpenter. .

Although the family is German, they came to the United States from Russia, where they had taught the Russians to cultivate. In Ogallala, they were greeted by their godfather, George McGinley. “Immigrants had to have a sponsor to provide them with housing, food, jobs, etc. ”Faesser said.

In the 1950s, there was no interstate highway, but Highway 30 passed through many small towns, and several had what Faesser humorously called “tourist traps” to entertain travelers.

Ogallala was the Sioux Trading Post, owned by the Henline family. Each summer, three generations of the Lakota Henry Whitecalf family descended from the Pine Ridge Reservation to host an evening powwow at the Sioux Trading Post.

In the afternoon, Henry Whitecalf drove the pickup through town, drumming as his granddaughter danced, hoping to lure tourists to the powwow.

The dances took place behind a gift shop “filled with goods made in China,” Faesser said. Teepees were set up, and the Whitecalf family would perform and collect from tourists to pay for their living expenses.

“That drumbeat was Mother Earth’s heartbeat. I heard that drumbeat. It entered my mind and stayed with me, ”Faesser said.

After being ordained a priest in 1976, Faesser was assigned to Holy Rosary Church in Alliance, a railroad town with a large Native American population “who lived south of the tracks in extreme poverty. There were many elderly natives who lived in a room on a dirt floor with a single pot-bellied stove. My heart went out to them, ”he said.

Five years later, he was assigned to churches in Rushville and Hay Springs, which border the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. He stayed there for six years.

“The natives would go downstairs and sell blocks of cheese and canned meat so that they could buy alcohol. We did that to them. We put them on non-productive reserve land, paid them minimum checks, and asked them to make a minimum living. They turned to alcoholism, ”he said.

“Sometimes they would come to the door and ask for food. I would feed them, but to give them a sense of human dignity, I would ask them to pick up trash or twigs in the church yard, ”he said.

Some people came two or three times a week, especially in the summer. He got to know some of them. “A man in his mid-twenties looked like he was in his forties because his face was so disfigured with alcoholism. I would sit on the porch with him. He was calm. Sometimes we would just sit together. silence, ”Faesser said.

Faesser became more and more confused by what he saw and experienced.

“It engaged my passion for the plight of the natives. In all of my experiences in the priesthood, seeing what we had done to native people gave me a great passion to find small ways to elevate their dignity and human worth, ”he said.

In 1991, he was posted to the Newman Center at the University of Nebraska at Kearney. When he had free time, Faesser went to Rapid City. “I loved Rapid City. It has become my mecca for indigenous art and culture, ”he said.

The first piece he bought was a simple drum. “I loved this drum, its heartbeat. I heard it when I went to powwows in Pine Ridge or the Black Hills, ”he said.

Soon he befriended the natives who made these items. He has been invited to sweat lodges and ceremonies. He attended two sun dances, which are multi-day ceremonies led by a medicine man. “They made a deep impression on me.”

For Faesser, the Dance of the Sun resembles the liturgy of Good Friday. A tree is cut and prayed during the ceremony. Flip-flops are attached to it.

“The ceremony represents suffering and redemption. People commit to fasting. They pray for their loved ones, for the nation (“the hoop”) and their culture, their way of life and more, ”he said.

“Lakota Sioux art has great spiritual significance to me. It invited me to step into a fuller and deeper understanding of the spirituality of the Plains people, ”he said.

The Roman Catholic Church currently has a Native American saint, but a Lakota Sioux member, Black Elk, is being considered for holiness. “Black Elk saw parallels between Catholicism and mixed that with Indigenous spirituality,” he said. Faesser sees them too.

Traveling frequently to Rapid City, Faesser became acquainted with many Indigenous artists. He met gallery owners like Ray Hillenbrand, a Michigan native who took over a century-old building in Rapid City and employed native artists and sold their work.

One of Faesser’s pieces, a buffalo skull, came from the sales table at a store called Prairie Edge. If the coins did not move, they would be noted and placed on the Prairie Edge sales table. “It put them within my reach. A number of my pieces came from there, ”he said.

He also commissioned pieces, like a skin hanging on the wall in his living room, decorated by artist Frank Shortie. “Three years later, he finished this play. I’ve had it for 27 years, ”Faesser said.

Faesser understood that gallery owners had meager profit markets. “They had to pay salaries, utilities, insurance. A commissioned piece allowed me to collect some very beautiful pieces at a price that I could afford, ”he said.

Faesser retired in 2019, but he continues to return to Rapid City and shop for souvenirs. “I can’t go up to Rapid City without bringing something back. I walked across the first floor and saw cabins, no trees, just a lone pine tree. I witnessed poverty, people walking on the highways, ”he said.

“I think the government has made an effort to right some of the wrongs, but we are not respecting our treaties,” he added.

He said some locals have become successful lawyers and doctors, “but these successes are not as widespread as they could be,” he said.

Faesser – who, ironically, lives on Sioux Lane – considers her living room and displays of beanies, warrior shirts, a beaded elk dress, a buffalo headdress and more, her “prayer room.”

“I am surrounded by pieces that do not age. They are more beautiful every day. When I sit there and start looking at these pieces, I feel like I’m overwhelmed. Along with my prayer, the richness of beauty of being surrounded by this kind of art nourishes my spirit.


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