Donovan Dahmen honored at dedication of his artwork at the Grand Portage Lodge–Manido Gizhigans
Photo by Kalli Hawkins
Community Voices

Donovan Dahmen honored at dedication of his artwork at the Grand Portage Lodge–Manido Gizhigans

At the end of the ceremonies celebrating the special stamp release for renowned Grand Portage artist George Morrison on April 22, another community event took place. The Grand Portage Tribal Council officially dedicated a work of art at the Grand Portage Lodge—a larger-than-life wood rendering of the Spirit Little Cedar Tree by Donovan Dahmen.

Council members John Morrin, Bill Myers, and April McCormick thanked Dahmen for the Spirit Little Cedar Tree–Manido Gizhigans.

WTIP caught up with Dahmen after the dedication to learn more about this piece and others.

Dahmen told WTIP that this is the second artwork that he has on display at the Lodge. Another piece, an eagle, welcomes visitors to guest services at the casino. Dahmen said the two pieces belong together, as both the eagle and the cedar tree are considered protectors of the Anishinaabe people.

Manido Gizhigans is a very large woodwork piece, standing almost 16 feet high and 20 feet wide. It is made of about 160 pieces, carefully crafted from eight different types of wood. Most from wood harvested in the region. Dahmen said it took about a year and a half to complete the piece, with breaks for hunting, wild ricing, and maple syrup gathering.

Asked if he ever struggles to find a piece that fits properly; if he ever gets “stumped.” Donovan smiled broadly and replied, “No, I think that…when art is really clicking like that it just comes so easily and naturally I’ve never gotten stumped like that, you just know what to do next.”

The piece includes the moon and a bit of shoreline. Dahmen points out that his Spirit Little Cedar Tree also includes the horizon line, something he felt he needed to include in honor of George Morrison.

Although Dahmen just recently began pursuing art as a career, accepting commission pieces like the Spirit Little Cedar Tree at the Lodge, he said he has always been an artist.  He attended the Institute of American Indian Arts, but pursued his art in a more low-key way, such as designing T-shirts for the Grand Portage Rendezvous Days Pow-Wow.

He believes he was inspired by Morrison, who is his uncle. He remembers doing an art project in elementary school in which he used wood pieces to make a collage. He didn’t realize at that time that some of his inspiration came from Morrison.

Asked what is next, Dahmen said he is currently working on three other projects, two of which are commissioned. He thanked the community for coming out for the dedication of Manido Gizhigans.

WTIP’s Rhonda Silence sat down with Donavon Dahmen after the dedication to talk about the lengthy process to create one of his wood pieces.