John Knife Sterner


John Knife Sterner


May 11 – June 23, 2023

SMAC Gallery

509 W Main Street, Marshall, MN 56258
(Mailing address: PO Box 55)

Regular office hours are:
Monday-Friday 9am-12pm and 1pm-4pm

View Virtual Tour Video

View Virtual Artist Reception & Artist Talk

Let My Prayer Rise Up

This exhibit is comprised of ink and acrylic Lakota imagery on church bulletins.

In-person Artist Reception Thursday, May 11 with live music by Darwin Dyce, Emily Hoffman & Peter Lothringer.

John Knife Sterner:

I am John K Sterner, a Sicangu Lakota German human being. I am an artist; drawing painting & sculpting art. I have been an athlete and coach; football, track and wrestling. I am a teacher of many things; church, physical education, human relations, and art. I am a father and a husband.

I have taught and coached for 30 years in public schools, churches, community centers and Universities. I have been active in cultural learning events and community building events. I have presented at cultural discussions and presentations of Indigenous Art for local agencies, churches, and schools. I was a teacher assistant for human relations coursework and worked as a counselor for the SMSU AOS/TRiO department for five years.

I continue to make Art pursuing the idea of what it is to be a modern displaced American Indian. The concept of what my heritage is and who I am in relation to that culture. I explore different mediums; cast bronze, fabricated steel, wood carving, plein air, oil painting and mixed media drawings. I use these different mediums combined with ideas searching for the connection between me and my race in today’s world, mixing traditional and contemporary Lakota spirituality into my work. My Lakota side and European heritage parents and grandparents taught me of the connections between the Lakota beliefs and European Christian beliefs. I was also a Nationally and internationally competitive athlete and coach who used the idea of the “Mind, Body and Spirit.” This combination of cultures has always been a part of who I am and it continues to find its way into my work. I explore the connections between being someone who is searching for who they are and someone who knows who they are.

Currently I have been using #inktober and church bulletins to make modern Lakota Ledger Art. I use the prompt words of #inktober to create an image that contains an eagle within every mixed media drawing. I also use the theme of the church bulletin to create ideas or images that represent a Lakota spiritual thought process while listening to the church dialogue. I draw the images and then however the word moves me that day I finish each page with colors that represent that spiritual journey. I use Lakota symbols to represent the images in both the #inktober and church bulletins. The Main symbol I incorporate is the Wanbli or Eagle. The Eagle represents Lakota ancestors and interacts with humans by appearing and speaking spiritually to the recipient.

The Eagle is also used to represent God or the “Great Spirit. My life fortunately has many connections to the eagle, physically, and spiritually. I use traditional, modern, and abstracted symbols to represent the eagle as a deliverer of spiritual truths. The Eagle is a key component of my work because of that.

Most of these small 4”x 8” through 9”x 12” mixed medium drawings/paintings become idea starters for much larger oil painted works or fabricated steel sculptures.

I love the idea of movement so each of my mixed medium drawings/paintings try to make the viewers eye travel through the work or give a sense of urgency to them. I love to stretch the ideas of movement trying to never have an object be in a stationary or static pose. Each image is meant to create visual movement or a rhythm through the patterns used much like the beating drum that is a part of Lakota spirituality. The same pattern/rhythm finds its way into my larger paintings or my sculptures. My sculptures try to push the idea of movement as well with patterns, and repeated forms. I use one point of connection for the sculpture to the ground then sweeping or strong angles to create tension in the work and make it feel as though its moving. My fabricated steel and bronze work is made with movement in mind; sometimes it’s the smoke of the campfire rising up to heaven or the beating of the wing of the eagle.

My sculptural work tries to capture the essence of movement. My athletic side was always noticing that we never were static, always dynamic. I started making sculpture to capture that dynamic movement in sport, but has evolved to creating more Lakota images that reflect the searching for understanding the Great Mystery. My work in sculpture has been in wire, papier Mache’, cast bronze, cast iron, wood, and fabricated steel. This constant journey of who I am in this world to my spiritual side as it meanders between my two sides. I am constantly struggling and wrestling with the idea of who I am as an Indian, and my German/Czech side. The stronger connection to who I am is through my indigenous heritage.

You can follow John’s artistic journey on his Instagram @melauha or visit his website at


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