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Canku Ota

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(Many Paths)

An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America


January 24, 2004 - Issue 105


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Blackfeet artist remembered

by SHAWN WHITE WOLF - Helena (Montana) Independent Record Staff Writer
credits: Photo by John Ebelt IR Staff - This King Kuka ‘Kukagraph' is entitled ‘Indian Prayer.'
"I say this for the smallest pieces to the largest, each one is important. Each one has a message. I hope this message connects with you." — King Kuka

"Indian Prayer" br King KukaMany local friends of Kingsley "King" Kuka, who died of a stroke last week in Great Falls, remember the Blackfeet artist as a risk-taking, generous, thoughtful and genuine man.

David Kettman, owner of the Ghost Art Gallery, said whenever a tourist would ask who he had for the American Indian arts, he always mentioned Kuka first.

"He was a quiet man, but big and imposing," said Kettman. "He's a real good seller, but not a real sales person — he was non-intimidating."

The Ghost Art Gallery has on display several copies of Kuka's work known as ‘Kukagraphs.' The mixed-media pieces include water colors with embossed and de-bossed pictures.

A permanent collection remains at the Montana State Historical Society. Prior to the Ghost Art Gallery, Kuka's work could be found at the former Cason Gallery in downtown Helena. In addition, Kuka's artwork can be found in other countries, as well as in the Vatican.

Kettman said the Ghost Art Gallery has been showing his work since 1996.

"The last show he had here was in May of last year," he said.

Kuka was born and raised on the Blackfeet Reservation. He and his wife, Marietta, raised five children.

Kuka began his art career at the Institute of American Indian Art in Santa Fe in 1962. Back then, the IAIA was first established as a high school. Then in 1974, the school became a two-year program and a certificate program, said Marita Hines, IAIA alumni and employee.

"He graduated in 1965. His first work was completed while he attended high school at IAIA," said Hines.

After IAIA, Kuka taught art at Helena Junior High during the 1973-74 school year.

He then earned a bachelor's degree from the University of Montana.

Hines said Kuka first started working in oil, pencil, ink, and pastel.

"Later in life he worked with print making, monotypes, bronzes and sculptures, and finally lithographs," she said.

In 2003, among his many activities, Kuka participated in IAIA's annual show and sale benefit.

"He was prolific; always very giving and helped the school," said Hines.

Ellen Swaney, director of the American Indian/Minority Achievement, said she remembered Kuka for his generosity also.

"I needed some art work for a document, and called him to see if he might have something we could use," said Swaney.

While Swaney said she never met Kuka face-to-face, Kuka dropped off his portfolio and a note saying that she could use whatever she wanted without charging a cent.

"I think he was a wonderful man, I loved his art work," she said.

Kuka's work was also found at the annual C.M. Russell Art Auction and is held in galleries in New York, Germany and the Netherlands.

In the 1995 issue of Sante Fe's Focus Magazine, Kuka said, "Allen Houser said he felt I'd be successful, because I'm a risk taker. I'm constantly experimenting."

While Kuka's artwork seemed to demonstrate an inner sense of spirituality, he also stayed close to his cultural roots.

"My people, known to themselves as the Pikuni, the Kainah, the Siksika, and collectively as the Peigan, had a super rich culture," he said in 2001.

Kuka said his goal in his artwork was to preserve what he could of the great culture in bits and pieces called Kukagraphs as well as through his original paintings and sculptures.

He has received awards in every category of art and several in literature, and is recognized for creating Kukagraph. He is highly recognized in the United States and throughout the world for his own individual style and abilities to work in watercolors, oils, bronze, steel, silver, the various printing processes, and his dedication to his people.

He was also a partner of Prairie Productions, located in Great Falls, which is an art business.

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