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 Artist Jeff Savage

Jeff Savage at the Fond du Lac Cultural Center and Museum

Celebrating 25 Years of the
American Indian Learning Resource Center

Artist Jeff Savage will be the featured guest at the American Indian Learning Resource Center (AILRC) 25th Anniversary Dinner/Auction Fundraiser to be held on Friday, November 14 from 6 - 10 p.m. in the Kirby Ballroom.

Proceeds from this event will fund the UMD American Indian/Alaskan Native Community Volunteer Scholarship. This is a newly endowed scholarship and will be awarded yearly to UMD students. It will be open to Indian and non-Indian students who are volunteering in the American Indian community.

Savage, who was born in Duluth, is an enrolled member of the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa and the director of the Fond du Lac Cultural Center and Museum. He is a renowned artist who works in multiple mediums, all of which have a deep connection to his Ojibwe heritage.

Savage has numerous relationships with UMD. He studied communication at UMD in the late sixties and early seventies and his wife, daughter and sister are all graduates. His sister, Lisa Savage, is a medical doctor who graduated from the UMD School of Medicine. While he didn't study art at UMD, he has studied it all around him his entire life.

Journey of an Artist

As a young boy he paid attention. "I watched the elders whittle," he said. "I had a natural inclination." He began working in clay. "When I was a kid, I always asked for modeling clay for Christmas," he remembered. He drew pictures, carved soap and worked with birch bark. He would dig his own clay, work it, and fire it in his yard. In high school, he did not feel that his art talent was appreciated. Racism was common and "no teacher ever addressed it," he said.

When Savage was 18-years old, a friend gave him a piece of pipestone. "It was beautiful stone," he said. He has worked with it ever since, continuing to find it challenging and inspiring. True to his belief in living every aspect of his art, Savage quarries all of his pipestone himself from the 1,000 year-old sacred quarries in Pipestone, located in southwestern Minnesota.

From 1979 to 1981, Savage went to the American Southwest. He entered some of his work in competitions and shows. In 1981, he won a Certificate of Merit, a Special Exhibit Award, and a Blue Ribbon Award at the Indian Ceremonial Association, Inc. in Gallup, New Mexico. Winning these awards "was validating," Savage said. It told him that his work had "prize-winning qualities." He has gone on to win numerous awards, and his work appears in both private and public collections including the Smithsonian Museum and the Department of Interior Museum in Washington, DC.

Creating the Southern Ojibwe Style

"Headwaters Caretaker Woman" bronze sculpture commissioned for the Mary Gibbs Mississippi Headwaters Center at Itasca State Park Sweet Grass Baskets: Jeff Savage draws inspiration from the floral motifs often seen in Ojibwe beadwork as well as depictions of indigenous animals found in northern Minnesota.

In the Southwest, however, Savage did not find the forms and motifs that spoke to him as an American Indian from Minnesota. Southwestern American Indian art often contained pictographic forms; "I wanted to create a southern Ojibwe style art form," he said. He returned to Minnesota and began to create work that drew its inspiration from the floral motifs often seen in Ojibwe beadwork as well as depictions of indigenous animals found in northern Minnesota.

Savage drew from nature as well as Ojibwe legend when he created his bronze sculpture "Headwaters Caretaker Woman" commissioned through the Minnesota Percent for Art in Public Places and now permanently installed at the Mary Gibbs Mississippi Headwaters Center at Itasca State Park. This massive piece depicts a woman with flowing hair releasing a clutch of turtles from a basket. In Ojibwe culture, women were believed to be the caretakers of the water. Visitors to the center are encouraged to touch the work. "I have made this sculpture for the people to touch and run their fingers over, to bring a time worn smoothness to the Headwaters Caretaker Woman, like running water through your fingers," Savage explained on his web site,

In addition to sculptures, Savage creates sweet grass baskets. He began to design and construct his own because "I couldn't afford them," he laughed. At the Mille Lacs Museum, he watched artist and Mille Lacs Band Elder Margaret Hill for 20 minutes as she worked on a basket. "Then I went home and practiced for four years," he said. He was drawn to creating unique forms of these coil baskets, not copying existing ones. Again Savage drew from the natural world around him. Bears, deer and eagles along with flowers and leaves adorn the covers of his baskets.

Savage teaches cultural arts to a group of young Ojibwe men. He encourages art as a profession for those who "don't want a traditional Euro-style 9-to-5 job," he said. "You can be your own boss." He also strongly advises to "learn your culture, learn your language, and live them." For Savage, living his culture includes partaking in other aspects of American Indian culture such as wild rice harvesting, hunting, and sugar bush (maple syrup) activities. He also advises young American Indian artists to collect their own cultural materials. "Make you own paints, quarry your own stone," he said. He firmly believes that this "connects you better to your medium."

Fundraising Auction for the American Indian Learning Resource Center

AILRC exists to enrich the cultural, academic, supportive, and social environment of the UMD campus. Their mission is to increase the recruitment and retention of American Indian and Alaskan Native students, while promoting a more culturally diverse campus environment. Working in conjunction with UMD staff, the AILRC provides supportive services to empower and aid in the success of our students and to enhance their educational experience. For more information about the AILRC, visit

Savage is pleased to be a part of AILRC's 25th anniversary celebration. In addition to speaking at the dinner, he has also generously donated a pipestone sculpture and a birch bark cut-out wall hanging for the auction. Proceeds raised from this event will fund the UMD American Indian/Alaskan Native Community Volunteer Scholarship.

Tickets are $30.00 in advance, $35.00 at door, and $25.00 for UMD students with current ID. Tickets may be purchased by calling the AILRC at 218-726-6379 or near the Kirby Bookstore, Oct. 27-31 & Nov. 3-7, 10:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.

Written by Kathleen McQuillan-Hofmann,

UMD home page editor, Cheryl Reitan,
NEW RELEASES, UMD media contact, Susan Latto,, 218-726-8830

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