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Studio Cruise '09 -- The 'artist's artist: Sculptor Goodwin carries on tradition

"What I want people to know is that I am an Anishinabe husband, father and grandfather first," says Duane Goodwin. He is one of the artists whose studio will be open for visitors during this weekend's Studio Cruise '09 in the Bemidji area. Pioneer Photo/Patt Rall1 / 2
One of Duane Goodwin's pieces in progress is this swaddled infant being held in a hand. It is made out of pink Brazilian soapstone. Pioneer Photo/Patt Rall2 / 2

A returning artist to this year's Studio Cruise is stone sculptor Duane (Dewey) Goodwin.

Goodwin grew up as one of 14 children on the White Earth Indian Reservation in Mahnomen and began to draw, color and paint at a very young age.

He thinks that his background and the ancestral beliefs that were passed on to him by his mother and father have helped build the reputation he has in the Bemidji artist community, where he is called the "artist's artist."

Goodwin is among the artists participating in the Studio Cruise '09, which begins today.

Goodwin started working with stone during his teen years. His first piece was a ceremonial pipe carved from pipestone.

"That's how I started," he said. "I just started fiddling with it, messing with a knife and file.

"It's very easy to work with, it's a very consistent rock, it holds together, it takes shape easily, and it doesn't have a lot of flaws in it. It comes from Pipestone, Minnesota, and it's the only place in the country where you can find this type of stone. The Ojibwa call it red stone; it is a very sacred, respected stone."

Goodwin is one of only a few Native American stone sculptors.

He trained at the Institute of American Indian Art in Santa Fe, N.M., for a while and worked under the famous Apache sculptor Allen Hauser.

Then, he went to the Minneapolis College of Art and Design. He finished two quarters and refined his drawing skills, but found it difficult living in the Twin Cities with a wife and family, so he returned to the Bemidji area.

He and his wife, Bambi, who also is an artist, live on their horse farm near Grace Lake.

Goodwin teaches art courses at Leech Lake Tribal College. He especially likes to focus on drawing.

Drawing skills, he said, are essential for artists. Goodwin himself is able to draw well and is an ambidextrous drawer.

"Drawing is a way to release energy," Goodwin said. "It can calm you down and release tension. I tell my students that I don't care if they draw at all, it's a learnable skill.

"It's like anything else -- the more you do it, the better you get. The older you get, the harder it is to learn how to draw because you get too critical of yourself."

For his art, Goodwin starts with several drawings or perhaps a model of the piece he "sees."

Then, he starts by making a smooth surface on the bottom of a piece and takes away all the negative rock. After this is finished, he begins carving.

He works with an air hammer and grinders. It is messy and dusty work that requires the use of face masks and ventilators.

Goodwin does not much enjoy sanding. This past winter, he had an apprentice from Cass Lake working with him who liked to sand. He also has had former students who like to work with him at his studio, and he welcomes students of all ages.

Goodwin is currently with Picasso Marble and Zebra Marble from Italy, Black Chloride and Wonderstone from Canada, Utah Alabaster and Minnesota Limestone and is now sculpting a small commission piece in Brazilian Soapstone.

He likes working with harder rock, he said, as softer rocks are no longer challenging.

"When I look at a rock, it is a living thing," Goodwin said. "When I bring it into my shop, it becomes my friend, my companion. I look at it every day. It has vibrations, it has a spirit inside the rock and it is up to me to eventually capture that spirit and bring it out, release that spirit from the rock and make the image it may take on, what it wants to be.

"But in some cases ... I have in mind this particular vision, so when I order the rock I ask for a special cut because I have this image in my mind."

Pointing to a rock, Good win said, "This piece of rock will be a bison, a very powerful living creature that provided life for the people of the plains."

In 2006, Goodwin was involved in an International Sculpture Symposium for the St Paul Public Arts. Fourteen carvers were selected from around the world and he was the only Native American included.

He crafted a piece from Winona Limestone of a woman kneeling, holding an offering dish, and it sits on the high bank of the Mississippi River by the burial grounds. It weighed 7.5 tons when he started and it took him almost five weeks to complete the 7-foot statue, which he named "Sacred Dish." The piece may be viewed online at

Goodwin said his dream is that someday the people or city of Bemidji will commission a piece from him of Chief Bemidji or of a respectable man or woman that can be an ongoing inspiration to the people of Bemidji.

He would like to do a monumental piece that will stand through the ages, such as a statue in Minnesota Limestone or granite, representing something that is truly Minnesotan accomplished by someone of this area.

Goodwin believes he has a gift given to him by the Creator and said that the gift does not belong to him alone -- that it is to be shared with people. He mentors and teaches because he feels a need to pass his gift onto others.

Goodwin's studio and horse farm is located at 9221 23rd St. S.E. in Bemidji. Go south on Paul Bunyan Drive from the Tourist Information Center for 2 miles and turn left onto Roosevelt Road. Go 4 miles and turn right onto Sunnyside Drive. At the first crossroad, turn left onto 23rd Street and drive 1.5 miles. There is a black mailbox opposite the driveway on the left.