Dennis Laughlin of Alliance had the honor of attending and participating in the 2019 National Veterans Creative Arts Festival held Oct. 28-Nov. 2, 2019 in Kalamazoo, Michigan. He qualified for the national festival after winning a gold medal at the 2019 local Black Hills competition held at the VA in Hot Springs, South Dakota with his “Chief Red Cloud Tribute” mixed media item. This category is for items that have the distinct use of two or more applied or fine arts techniques in the creation of a single piece of art.

Laughlin was presented with a second-place silver medal and certificate from the 2019 National Veteran’s Creative Arts Festival in the mixed media category. Laughlin had this to say about his piece,

“The project was accomplished my making a wooden mold and "wet-forming" the leather around the wood mold. The leather is vegetable-tanned tooling cowhide leather. The lacing is buckskin. The beads are made from buffalo bone. The horsehair is from a local Paint horse, similar to those ridden by the Lakota. The turkey feather is from a turkey I hunted several years ago. The cover flap portrait of Red Cloud was done with oil paints. The inner part of the bag is done with ink, and the white hair is accomplished by using a scalpel blade to scrape the fine lines. The "circle" is 24K gold, symbolic of "Red Cloud's War" to stop the migration across sacred territory to the gold fields in Montana.

The printing is from words spoken by Red Cloud after the massacre at Wounded Knee on December 29, 1890.

While I was stationed in Vietnam, I read the book by Dee Brown, "Bury my heart at Wounded Knee", which affected me greatly. Growing up with Native American friends in my neighborhood, I became very interested in the culture and spirituality. I saw the damage and destruction caused by alcoholism and abject poverty. As a kid, I was always amazed by the pride and fortitude of my friends, no matter the circumstance. During the summers, they would travel back and forth from the Pine ridge Reservation. "Chief Red Cloud" always stayed in my mind, as one of my friends said his family were descendants of Red Cloud.

During my career as an artist and graphic designer, I spent several years in Ohio. One great opportunity was to design and fabricate interior and exterior Native American based displays for a resort on Lake Erie. I did extensive study on the Northern tribes and their influence on the culture of the Northern states and through the Midwest. I had the opportunity to track down and talk to one of the Native Americans I grew up with. I asked her about all her family and how they were doing. She said they were all dead as a result of alcoholism or murder occurring on the Pine Ridge Reservation. She said her only means of "survival" was to leave the reservation, relocating to Santa Fe, NM, and immerse herself into Native American spirituality. She is an artist, married to an artist, and doing well.

I spent 8 1/2 years in the Air Force as an artist/illustrator. My last assignment was a 2-year tour with the USAF Thunderbirds, creating their airshow and publicity material.”

Laughlin is a member of the Alliance American Legion Post 7 and is the Box Butte County Veterans Service Officer. Pictured with Laughlin is Mary Culbertson of the Black Hills VA Health Care System.

More on the 2019 National Veterans Creative Arts Festival:

• The program is Co-sponsored, on the local and national level by the US Department of Veterans Affairs & the National American Legion Auxiliary.

• In 2019, over 3,500 Veterans from 130 VA medical facilities entered the art, music, drama, dance, and creative writing competitions. The National Festival is held a different city each year. In 2006, it was held in Rapid City, SD and to date it hasn’t been held in Nebraska! It began in 1989 when it was held in St. Louis, Missouri. 2019 marked the 20th Festival where the American Legion Auxiliary co-sponsored the Festival.

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