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*Stories marked with an asterisk were written by experienced contributing editors with the goal of showing North Dakota's diversity.

Head and shoulders of Dakota artist Holly Young with long curly brown hair, wearing Native jewelry, standing among tall, leafy trees on a warm sunny dayHolly Young is a Dakota woman, mother and self-taught artist from the Standing Rock Reservation, living in Bismarck. She uses several different mediums and modalities. She is a quillwork artist, bead artist, jewelry maker, ledger artist, and muralist. Her work has been featured at the annual Sante Fe Indian Market (SWAIA); at the Minnesota Historical Society Museum where she was an artist in residence; the Minnesota Institute of Art; the New York Metropolitan Museum; and on book covers and murals.

Beaded mitten with Native design by Dakota artist Holly YoungTaking her inspiration from the time she spent living and learning of her culture from her grandparents; she credits them for her interest in Dakota and Lakota art and culture. In her research on quillwork, (which had nearly become a lost art because of colonization), she found that originally the Dakota people created floral designs and not the generalized geometric motifs that non-indigenous fashion designers use today. The floral design work represents what the Dakota people saw on the prairies: medicine, serenity, beauty, and land. She is keeping that floral design alive for future generations by using it in her quillwork, beadwork, ledger art, and more. 

Various items such as mugs, clothing, and cards designed and created by Dakota artist Holly YoungAs for her favorite modality, Young says it’s hard to choose just one.  “I actually enjoy all the mediums that I have picked up along the way. If I did have to choose one thing that I really enjoyed it’s definitely designing floral designs and arranging colors. It’s almost like figuring out a puzzle to me. I just keep plugging colors and different designs together until it feels like it fits. It’s very cathartic to me and relaxes me.”

Young has accomplished a lot as an artist. She says she’s proud to represent Dakota and Lakota culture. “No matter how much time goes by I still feel like a new person to the art world and [for] my accomplishments to be featured in different places, still feels unbelievable. Especially knowing that art didn’t come to me very easily at all, it wasn’t until I was an adult that I picked it up. I’m very proud of what I do, and I only hope to continue to grow.”

Young’s designs can be seen on murals in the Midwest. “I have done a few murals that are in Minnesota. The one in St. Paul is outside of the Springboard building. That was a collaboration with Sarah Agaton Howes. I also did [a] mural with her at the University of Minnesota. We are currently working on another mural at the moment.”  

Outdoor painted mural showing a Native girl and Native boy and colorful Native shapes by Dakota artist Holly Young

In 2022, she was an integral part in designing one of several murals (above) in her hometown of Fort Yates, ND, through a project called Babe Walls. Babe Walls is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization that supports and celebrates women and non-binary artists worldwide. They collaborated with North Dakota State University and the Standing Rock Reservation to help fund the installation of 13 murals in Fort Yates. 

Floral red Native-designed purse by Dakota artist Holly YoungAnother highlight for Young was being able to showcase her work at the Sante Fe Indian Market a few years ago. While the experience was worthwhile for her, it’s quite a trek to take. “I loved the experience of Santa Fe and getting to be amongst so many talented Native artists from all over the United States in one place. It’s so inspiring and important that we have a market such as this. However, it’s so expensive for an artist to travel that far, for that long, and the time goes by so quickly. It’s definitely a great experience to have, but I can’t see myself doing it every year. I would love to have something similar right here in the Midwest, as we have a ton of talent, locally.”

Dakota artist Holly Young holder her ledger artYoung believes that anyone can be an artist, but it isn’t without its challenges. “I think a lot of people are naturally talented. However, the art world is a bit of a roller coaster ride. It’s up and down. It’s not always consistent. It can sometimes make you question yourself. But for me, I know that this is exactly what I am supposed to be doing in life, so I don’t ever think about quitting. I just re-adjust. And this is also why I try to learn as many different mediums as possible. So when art feels like it’s not doing well, I’ll pick up another medium to learn so I can keep my supporters and customers interested. One thing I would like to do is learn digital art, or learn how to digitize designs. It’s very much necessary in my life, especially when I am hired to do design work for anyone or organizations. I end up having to outsource it.”

Young has collaborated with many other inspiring artists and worked with many great venues that showcase her artwork, such as the North Dakota Heritage Center and State Museum; Northern Visions (Minneapolis, MN); Mille Lacs Indian Museum and Trading Post (Onamia, MN); and Hocokata Ti (Shakopee, MN). But her dream collaborations are yet to come. “I’d love to collaborate with my mentor John Pepion some day. And I love Dyani White Hawk’s work. I’m in awe of it.” 
Native girl drawn by Dakota artist Holly Young

Young is keeping busy during the cold months with upcoming projects. She’s currently collaborating on a mural and a third book cover for an author she admires and is also helping to illustrate a children’s book with a different author.

Young says aspiring artists should never stop dreaming, “If I can be an artist, anyone can be an artist. Never stop dreaming, never stop learning and practicing. Art is a beautiful way to express yourself and is so fulfilling. Everyone should be able to experience this.” 

Young claims to rely heavily on her family and community for inspiration and direction. She honors her Dakota ancestors through revitalizing nearly lost artforms and sharing the stories that go with them. From the beginning of her career as an aspiring artist, through her remarkable accomplishments, one thing was never lost - her commitment to preserving and sharing traditional art forms and lifeways with her people. She continues to do this through workshops, community conversations, gatherings and mentoring. 

Connect with Holly Young through her website on artspan.com, on Instagram or Facebook.


Head and shoulders of Alicia Hegland-Thorpe with long dark hair, light skin, dark eyes and toothy smile, wearing a sparkly purple scarf, white shirt and royal blue shawlAbout the Author
Alicia Hegland-Thorpe is a citizen of the Spirit Lake Nation. She is a freelance journalist, and formerly a broadcast news anchor, and reporter for television and radio. Alicia graduated from Minot State University with a Bachelor of Arts in Broadcasting. She lives in the Bismarck area. 

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