When Greg Bellanger’s father, Ken, a White Earth Band Member, founded what is now Northland Visions over 20 years ago, Greg was happy to help him out. “My degree is in fine arts and advertising, so three months after he opened, he came to me for help,” he says. “He was focusing on making nice gift boxes based around hand-harvested wild rice and other Native American foods, and needed help with the retail and art side of the business.”
In 2007, Greg fully took over store operations after his father retired. “I took my background, my family history and my art degree, and melded them together to create a retail version of Native history and Native art,” he says. “Most of our customers are Native, but I have a growing number of customers that are not, and they come here looking to learn more about it and to buy pieces of art. We're not just sharing the art itself; we're also sharing the story and the history behind it.”
All the art is handmade by Native American artists, such as Jennifer White, who is an Arikara Native American from Sioux Falls, South Dakota. “She does acrylic on canvas contemporary art mainly around Native women, buffalos and crows - imagery that is very prevalent in Plains-style Native art,” says Greg.
He had heard about her, and while driving through South Dakota about 10 years ago, sought out her pieces. “They're just very unique and vibrant with a lot of movement,” he says. “It was unlike anything I'd seen before.”
The store also carries ledger art from Jim Yellowhawk. Ledger art is a traditional way of recording history for Native American people. “He's from the Cheyenne River Tribe in South Dakota, and I found him at a Native American art marketplace many years ago,” says Greg. “He does his artwork on old ledger paper with a contemporary twist.”
Works by local artist Gordon Coons, a member of the Lac Courte Oreilles Band of Lake Superior Chippewa Indians of Wisconsin, are also on display in the store. “He's a painter and printmaker, and he does traditional Ojibwe-style imagery,” says Greg. “I have prints and originals depicting the old storytelling ways of the animals like otters, bears, crows and sturgeons.”
For the past four years, another local artist, William “Bill” Brien of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa in North Dakota, has had works represented at Northland Visions as well. “He creates digital imagery of traditional woodland floral patterns,” says Greg. “I have some of his canvas prints and metal prints.”
In addition to these items, the store carries porcupine quill work, an art form unique to Native Americans, such as jewelry made from dyed and flattened porcupine quills. “I also have handmade beadwork items like moccasins, pipe bags, tobacco bags, and other merchandise like barrettes, earrings, necklaces and bracelets made from tiny seed beads. There are handmade Native style cedar flutes, and hand-painted leather wallets of woodland scenes.” Customers can also find handmade traditional ribbon skirts, and turquoise and silver jewelry from the Southwest.
Greg is quite the artist himself and has some of his own creations for sale. “I make horse effigy dance sticks,” he says. “Males would use these to dance in honor of their horse before a hunt or if their horse passed away, so it was a way to honor their friend and companion. They would decorate it in a way that they envisioned their horse, so if it was really fast, they might have a lightning bolt on it. There were different ways they decorated them based on the personality or the persona of the horse.” He also makes large, beaded bags and breastplates made from buffalo bone.
In addition to all the handmade items, the store carries mugs, coasters, interesting rocks, scarves, purses and more. “We go to merchandise markets and try to find unique items that aren't going to be sold everywhere else,” says Greg. “We've mainly been staying local because I want to support other local small businesses, but I might branch out in order to expand our unique selection.”
Last year, he started something new by having an artist come into the store to do a live demonstration. “Jennifer White did it last year and it was such a well-received event that we did it again with her this year. Customers were able to meet an artist, and when she was done, the paintings went up for sale.”
Northland Visions assists and supports Native American artists who work with beads by having a great selection of these items in stock. There’s an enormous bead counter filled with high-quality products from Czech, Japan and more.
To find out more, go to northlandvisions.com.