Wednesday, March 4, 2020

A Visit with Native Artist Sam Zimmerman: More Than Meets the Eye

Sam Zimmerman has come home to the Northland, a Grand Portage Native who spent two decades in New York serving in the education field. His passion for working with children with disabilities evolved into his being responsible for the special ed programs in the 255 schools of New York City. Along with this responsibility for 130,000 kids came a measure of influence.

His achievements led to his taking on an even greater role for the State of New York, but the pressures, the rat race hours, and politics pushed him to find a way to get back in touch with his roots.

A 40th birthday in the Yukon's Torment Valley proved to be the turning point. Immersion in the natural beauty, and being confronted by the power of Native art and totems resurrected this desire to return to his Midwest homeland and his artistic visions. "I needed to find that balance" that was missing in his life.

Zimmerman is a gregarious man, easy to share time with.  He left for the East Coast in 1996 and never stopped moving for 23 years. "It's amazing the lessons we learn," he said regarding his transition from student to education to the political arena. Of this journey he said, "The only thing I miss is teaching at the college level."

While in Alaska he said he felt like he was home. And it felt especially good to not be on call, which had become a way of life with his level of responsibility.

I visited with Zimmerman this weekend in his home in the East Hillside. The apartment is full of art. His studio is a relatively small space, but just as I have a cramped little office here with laptop and books, he has a corner "office" that serves as a studio, with ample light from windows on two of the four sides.

Some of his earlier work hangs in his studio.
When I probed regarding the latter years of his experience--the political part--he said, "I learned that I'm not a politician. I don't have an agenda." He just wanted to help kids, families and schools. "I did not feel these were the priority of my department."

"The biggest enemy is misinformation," he explained. "Who's crafting the narrative?"

Now that he's here in Duluth he's been painting again, passionately producing work that has been getting noticed, which can be found at AICHO. And he's involved with children here as well. "It's the first time I've been involved with Native children."

What stimulates him most, though, is the "energy of creation." And not just his own painting, but that which others do as well. His walls are decorated with numerous paintings by others whose impressive works he's collected over the years. A whole blog post could be written about these alone.

Here are some marvelous works he's collected from friends over the years.
This artist paints on book covers. Fascinating works.
A Native Princess painted by another friend.
Sam's Grandfather's photo, in a birchbark canoe from his high school days in Grand Portage.
Strong connections remain between Zimmerman, his roots and his family.
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Sam Zimmerman's paintings, giclee reproductions, prints, and other various merchandise with his paintings featured (CPL Imaging) can be found at Indigenous First Art & Gift Shop at Trepanier Hall, 202 West 2nd Street, Duluth. His Alaskan-inspired paintings are available at Lizzard's Gallery downtown..

Related Links
Local Art Seen: Sam Zimmerman at AICHO
Trepanier Hall Being Renamed to Honor Dr. Robert Powless at AICHO Fifth Anniversary

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