Artist Learned Traditional Arts in Archives

Aug 15th, 2003 | By | Category: 15-1: Indigenizing Our Future, Tribal College News
By Megan Doty

PEOPLE'S CHOICE. Andrzej Gussman's beadwork and quillwork won both Best of Show and People's Choice at the annual AIHEC Student Art Competition.

A Blackfeet Community College student won “best of show” and “people’s choice” at the American Indian Higher Education Consortium’s (AIHEC) art competition in Fargo, ND, last April. This was nothing new for the 26-year-old who earned a variety of prestigious awards within the past two years at the annual art competition.

Those who viewed the elaborate bead, quill, and leatherwork were surprised to learn that the artist, Andrzej Gussmann, was born in the eastern European country of Poland. In 1998 he came to the Blackfeet Reservation in northern Montana to learn more about the culture. He has expanded his knowledge by taking classes at the Blackfeet Community College, graduating in May 2003 with an associate degree in Blackfeet Studies.

When Gussmann was just 10 years old in Poland, he started learning about American Indian cultures, specifically the Blackfeet, through books, museums, television, and various American Indian friends he met at pow wows in Poland and Germany.

The life he now shares with his Blackfeet wife, Marie, on the reservation pleases him. The general feel of the area and people, the aesthetics, and the acceptance with which he was received were a pleasant surprise. During the AIHEC art show, American Indian friends always surrounded him.

“It was easy to switch from one culture to another and be successful,” said Gussmann, even though the cultures are so varied. He had a fair amount of exposure to American Indian culture growing up in Poland. “But the food is totally different.”

Asked how he feels as an Anglo competing with American Indian tribal college students, he answered: “Success comes from doing what you want, as long as it’s coming from the heart.”

He learned beading and quillwork from many different teachers in Eastern Europe and the United States and from researching traditional designs in books. To assure the designs he beaded were traditional, he studied in museum archives. He says he’s beaded about everything there is to bead, but he still wants to do more and maintains a positive attitude on life: “Life is too short to do everything you’d like to.” He plans on continuing his education at the University of Montana in hopes of earning a bachelor of arts degree.

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