Ledes from the Land of Enchantment

Patrick Collins uses painting to find himself, highlight movement

Artist Patrick Collins of Michigan’s Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribal Reservation poses in front of his portraits of Indigenous women he painted as part of his Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women project. (Chancey Bush/Albuquerque Journal)

Sometimes redemption arrives in the tip of a paintbrush.

Ojibwe artist Patrick Collins bounced between 11 foster homes after being abused by both his parents. He battled alcoholism and Desert Storm-inflicted PTSD until he found himself on a canvas.

A graduate of Santa Fe’s Institute of American Indian Arts, Collins recently moved from Michigan’s Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribal Reservation to Albuquerque. He’ll be showing a series on Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women at the Santa Fe Indian Market on Saturday, Aug. 20, and Sunday, Aug. 21.

This year marks the 100th anniversary of this grandfather of New Mexico’s art markets. More than 100,000 visitors swarm the Plaza to see art by more than 250 Native artists from across the US and Canada. Shoppers annually drop $160 million on art, hotels and restaurants at what critics view as the most prestigious Native American market in the country.

This year marks Collins’ first try at selling his work in Santa Fe. He’ll be bringing eight portraits of strong women he sees as crucial to both his life, and the MMIW movement that advocates for the end of violence against Native women.

Collins based his 24-by-40 inch portraits on photographs, adding tribal symbols and regalia to his canvases. He created the works using oil-based pencils and paint. Their skin tones glow in a menagerie of reds, blues, peaches and oranges blended into a silky luminescence.

“We have people like Charlene Teters (Spokane artist and former IAIA dean for cultural arts and studies) who have done great things,” Collins said. “Women in Indian society usually aren’t going to get recognized.”

Portraits from Patrick Collins’ Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women series. (Chancey Bush/Albuquerque Journal)

Collins pictured a quizzical Teters wearing a traditional woven hat, her chin leaning on her hand.

“She was at the forefront of fighting for Indian people,” Collins said. “She was at the forefront of the whole mascot issue.”

It was Teters who encouraged him to finish school at IAIA when he ping-ponged between New Mexico and Michigan while his oldest daughter was having health problems.

Collins sketches out the women’s shapes on canvas before filling in the body. He prefers oil for its vibrant color and long drying time, allowing him to change or add onto the painting.

“I think oils are much richer” than acrylics, he said. “It’s like Abercrombie & Fitch versus Kmart.”

He often adds silver, gold or copper leaf to outline hand symbols designating women in distress.

Artist Patrick Collins, from the Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribal Reservation, works on his paintings inside his studio at his home in Albuquerque. (Chancey Bush/ Albuquerque Journal)

His portraits stare above a cluttered studio folding table with half-squeezed paint tubes, bottles of denatured alcohol, plastic paint cups, bouquets of clean brushes and palette knives.

The first female is Inuit from Alaska/Greenland, the second is from the Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe of Michigan, the third is Navajo and a fourth is of Aztec descent from Central Mexico.

Navajo veteran Toni Eaglefeathers follows the powwow circuit advocating the promotion of Native women to higher military positions.

“They all wear jingle dresses; that’s a healing dress that came from the Ojibwa nation,” Collins said. The dresses dangle with decorative cones made from chewing tobacco lids.

Collins grew up outside of his Michigan reservation. His mother was Ojibwa; his father was Seminole and part of the Red Power Movement of the 1970s.

“My dad was a rolling stone,” Collins said. “I have like 14 brothers and sisters. My mom left my dad before I was even born. My dad was a pretty bad alcoholic.”

Social workers took Collins from his mother, an artist who wove baskets. He grew up in foster care from the age of 7.

“My mom was verbally abusive,” he said. “She didn’t know how to be a good parent. My mom would dye her hair blonde. She wanted to be white so bad.

“I came home and there was a counselor. She told my mom she had to go to therapy.”

Eventually, his biological mother was diagnosed with schizophrenia.

At age 11 or 12, Collins was placed in a boys’ school that became his version of the New York’s High School for the Performing Arts from “Fame.” He studied painting and drawing.

“They had a program for the gifted and I thrived,” he said.

“My mom was an artist; it was part of my background my whole life. I was that guy who can draw. My academics were awful because I was drawing all the time.”

But he leapfrogged from foster home to foster home, an angry kid who acted out his rage.

“I was a tough kid that had problems,” he explained. “I was in the principal’s office every day.

“I was disrespectful, I was acting out. I was running away from home,” he continued. “I made threats of suicide. I was the class clown, completely disrespectful.”

When Collins was 12, a woman completing a guidance counselor internship spoke to him at school and the pain rushed out in an avalanche. Not long afterwards, she took him into her home, becoming the woman he calls “Mom.” She had a husband and two children.

“It was the best thing that ever happened to me,” Collins said. “I think they broke me. She was smart enough not to let me manipulate. They took care of me the rest of my life. They became the backbone of who I am.”

A portrait from Albuquerque artist Patrick Collins’ Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women series. (Chancey Bush/ Albuquerque Journal)

He attended a Mississippi community college. He also attended Central Michigan University. Then an academic advisor from Arizona told him about IAIA.

“I loved it,” he said. “It was my first time being in this region. I fit right in with the other kids. It was my first time dealing with other Native tribes. My roommate had been in foster care, too.”

He graduated in 2021 and left for Michigan to pursue tribal politics and the chaos of distributing casino wealth. It didn’t last.

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“I think art for me is therapeutic,” he said. “It helps me grow.

I know how to wield and use my hand that way. I’m infatuated with a political response in my portraits.”

He’s also bringing a 55-by-70-inch painting to Santa Fe. It pictures two young women, one his daughter Shelayna and Santa Clara Pueblo artist Rose B. Simpson holding a sign against genocide. It reads “Natives for Ukraine.”

“We get it,” he said.

Collins won Best of Show at the Ziibiwing Cultural Society in 2001 and was the 2002 Winter Olympics Mural recipient for the Discover Navajo Foundation.

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