Paris Gibson Square opens ledger art exhibit from John Pepion on Thursday
Since he was a young boy, John Pepion has had art coursing through his veins.
It’s in his thoughts, on his walls and it’s woven into his family history, the history of his people, his educational background and it’s how he makes a living.
And now, Pepion has his own exhibit of brand new ledger art on display at Paris Gibson Square. The Square holds an opening reception of Pepion’s works in the new exhibit titled “Warrior Art of John Isaiah Pepion” on Thursday from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m.
Pepion, an enrolled member of the Blackfeet Nation, was born in Kalispell and has been creating art since he was a child drawing mountains and tipis under the tutelage of his grandfather Daniel “Webb” Pepion Sr., who created realistic western art.
His ledger art, he says, mixes old styles with new ones and uses Montana ledgers from the 1800s.
This exhibit at the Square includes 18 pieces, all of which were completed this fall, based on family and tribal history, personal experience and dreams.
Pepion is known as “Wolf Trail,” and one of the pieces in this show features a wolf, which he said is a representation of him.
“My real father’s last name is Running Wolf and my name is Wolf Trail, so Wolf Trail is in my art and it’s always with me,” he said. “How I got that name in our language is from a song. My grandpa, he died last year at 94, and when he was a little kid the older Indians would come visit his dad and he said they’d come all the time and sing the song called ‘Wolf Trail.’”
Pepion last year had several pieces on display in the last ledger art exhibit the Square featured, “Conflict, Courtship, Ceremony, and the Chase: Renowned Ledger Artists From Across the Nation”
He said this show differs from that one not only in that he has more of his pieces, 18 this time, but that he’s been able to showcase more of his own personality in his works whereas the works in the last show were more pieces that are closer to the well-known styles of ledger art.
“Those last pieces were just examples of what I was known for, I’m known for a lot of my colorful horses, but I didn’t originate that style,” he said. “And some of the older ledger artists that were there said they liked how I pushed that old style, but I’m an up-and-coming artist and I also do other styles that aren’t here but I also work on.”
Those styles include realistic drawings of animals and contemporary scenes that deliver a message about the challenges of what it’s like being a Native in today’s world.
As for the pieces that are display, Pepion said he was excited when the Square reached out to him and asked if he’d like to do a solo show because there were several pieces he had wanted to work on for a while and now he had a new opportunity to present them to the public.
“I’ve done other solo shows, but it wasn’t doing what I wanted to do, necessarily,” he said. “I’ve always wanted to do a couple, a man and a woman together, there’s chicken dancers and there’s a scene with stealing horses, so to be able to put this together after I got the opportunity last year is great. I think this is going to be a good show, too.”
Kristi Scott, interim curator of the Paris Gibson Square, said this show, like all of the shows at the Square, features art that people can purchase to help support living, working artists from the area.
“This exhibit will be open during Western Art Week and the art here really is an awesome deal,” she said. “A lot of galleries take a high percentage of the sales, but we try to keep ours low because these are living, working artists. John, for example, got all of his pieces framed, had all of his pieces shipped on his own and spend six months working on them. So these are the product of his blood, sweat and tears and living, working artists need to put food on the table, too, so we don’ want folks to overlook the fact that you can come here and buy the art and have something beautiful to put on your walls, but you’re also helping a living artist, too.”
Scott said they’re thrilled to have Pepion’s ledger art here on such short notice compared to other shows, but said it goes with the museum’s vision to have the square be a hub for native art during Western Art Week, as she said there isn’t entirely one place where it’s all centrally located.
Finally, Scott said the Square is pleased to have Pepion’s work on display early in his career as a professional artist, and that they’re excited to see how this exhibit helps him expand his reach into the art world.
“It’s a beautiful example of what a community contemporary art museum is supposed to do,” she said. “We highlight professional artists from Northcentral Montana, and John is a great example of that. People know who he is, he’s not a secret, but he is young and we’re happy to be here for him early in his career for this solo show, which is not his first and certainly won’t be his last. We are very happy to have him here.”