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Resounds: Sean Chandler

Anna Paige
Sean Chandler, pictured in the Yellowstone Art Museum in April, 2022, during the opening of "The Un-homecoming of Uncle Dirty and Jimmy Cardell," featuring Chandler’s large-scale canvas paintings and the pottery of Jesse Albrecht

Sean Chandler, artist and member of the Aaniiih Nation, grew up in Glendive and now resides on Fort Belknap Agency in Harlem, where he's president at Aaniiih Nakoda College. In his painted works, Chandler unfolds stories of growing up in Eastern Montana, and the stories of his family and the Aaniiih people.

Chandler's work is currently on display at the Yellowstone Art Museum as part of a tandem show with potter Jesse Albrecht, titled "The Un-homecoming of Uncle Dirty and Jimmy Cardell.” Both artists’ works are layered in story. Whereas Albrecht’s pottery contrasts the natural world with associations from his time as a soldier in the Iraq war and the resulting post-traumatic stress and fallout of war, Chandler draws from his love of baseball to his first car (a ’65 Mustang) to a drawing of him in Kindergarten dressed as Uncle Sam, contrasted with a heavier toll of Native assimilation.

Chandler approaches his work with humor and reverence, and there's plenty of outhouses and toilets throughout his work. He describes flush toilets as something his father saw when he was a child delivering newspapers. They became a symbol of affluence and an indication of wealth and prosperity to his family. The influence of Chandler's father, Al Chandler, is felt across his work. Al attended Indian Residential Schools near Pierre, South Dakota, and was later the focus of a PBS documentary short called I'd Rather Be Powwowing, which debuted in 1983.

Anna Paige
Sean Chandler’s large-scale canvas paintings and the pottery of Jesse Albrecht

Many of the works in Chandler’s new exhibition are composed on large-scale unframed canvas — Subjects and shapes sprawl across the canvas, glowing bright gold, or some dark grey and black with horns. In many areas of Chandler's work, the subjects painted appear to be in starvation — something he describes as literal and spiritual, reflecting the starvation of Chandler's ancestors, both physically and spiritually, he described.

"In my work, there are these pieces of things missing of us . . . and we try to get these things back, we try to restore our language, our ceremonies, our way of life, but it's always in pieces,” Chandler said. Graves appear in the foreground of some of Chandler’s work, a sign of the impacts of boarding schools and the many deaths of Native people at the hands of the U.S. Government, colonization, and forced assimilation.

Chandler has a bachelor's in art and master’s in Native studies at Montana State University, and later earned an Ed.D. in Educational Leadership from the University of Montana. After nearly a twelve-year hiatus, Chandler returned to creating art in 2018 and joined the artist collective Paintallica. He works across large-scale canvases using oil, acrylic, paint stick, and charcoal, and produces drypoint prints and drawings.

He has received awards and exhibited at the Heard Museum in Phoenix, Ariz, and the Eiteljorg Museum in Indianapolis, Indiana, with work collected by the Museum of Natural History in Paris and the Minneapolis Institute of Arts Museum, MN.

Anna Paige is a Montana-based journalist, poet and educator. She is originally from Wyoming and has lived in Billings for more than a decade, where she co-founded Young Poets, winner of the 2021 Library of Congress Award for Literacy.
Corby Skinner is an independent marketing professional with an enormous capacity for assessing issues and creating positive, effective messages.