Gift from Jim Denomie's family honors Red Lake artist and their mentor relationship

Artist Jonathan Thunder received the Jim Denomie Memorial Scholarship in recognition of his commitments to excellence in art-making and community engagement.

A person poses for a photo and looks to the right
Jonathan Thunder, visual artist, recipient of the Jim Denomie Memorial Scholarship.
Photo courtesy of Jonathan Thunder and All My Relations Arts.

Diane Wilson and her family received an outpouring of love and support this past spring following the passing of her husband, artist Jim Denomie. Beginning this summer, Wilson is reciprocating that love through the creation of the Jim Denomie Memorial Scholarship.

A man smiles for a photo
The late Jim Denomie (1955-2022), renowned painter.
Photo Courtesy of the Jim Denomie Estate, Todd Bockley Gallery and All My Relations Arts

This week the scholarship announced it awarded $10,000 to Jonathan Thunder, a visual artist and citizen of Red Lake Nation, who lives in Duluth.

The Wilson-Denomie family is working in partnership with All My Relations Arts, a nonprofit gallery in south Minneapolis, and the Todd Bockley Gallery to administer the award.

A writer and arts organizer, Wilson wanted to announce the award on Jim’s birthday to celebrate his life and his work.

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“There was so much beautiful, loving, kind energy that came out of his passing,” said Wilson. “We wanted to just find a place where we could use it to help transmute some of this grief into something really positive and forward-moving for our community.”

‘Commitment to commenting on what's happening, culturally and politically’

Angela Two Stars, a sculptor and curator who has had the opportunity to exhibit Denomie’s work at All My Relations Gallery, fondly remembers attending Jim Denomie’s talks and art openings as an arts student.

“I looked to him as one of the greats,” said Two Stars.

When first approached by Wilson to begin the selection process for the award, Two Stars looked to Wilson for guidance.

“I asked Diane, ‘Who's Jim been talking about?’” Two Stars recalled. “The first person she said was Jonathan, that Jim was really excited about Jonathan's work.”

Two Stars also praised Thunder’s commitment to community engagement. Thunder had worked with All My Relations to mentor fellow artists on two large-scale installation projects in 2021.

Wilson said her late husband and Thunder had a mentor-mentee friendship lasting several years.

“Jim’s style of mentoring was not telling or advising so much as it was encouraging,” said Wilson. “He was full-on excited about other people's artwork. And Jonathan was one of them.”

A multi-disciplinary artist, Thunder works as a painter and filmmaker who addresses personal subject matter and social matters important to both Native American communities and the broader arts community.

Recognized for his intense, vibrant use of color, Denomie also was known for his humor, and “piercingly honest truth-telling.”

A painting with deer and people
"Four Days and Four Nites - Blue Green River" acrylic and oil on canvas (c) 2020.
Courtesy of Jim Denomie Estate and Bockley Gallery.

Wilson says she sees a candor in Thunder’s work that resonates with Denomie’s body of work.

“There's that humor, the storytelling, a commitment to commenting on what's happening, culturally and politically,” said Wilson.

Jonathan Thunder issued a brief statement expressing his gratitude for the award.

“It is a great honor for me to be the first recipient of the Jim Denomie Memorial Scholarship,” said Thunder. “It was both an emotional moment, as well as a moment of celebration. When I was notified about the scholarship I was at a loss for words, and I still, for the most part, am searching for the right words.” 

‘Time to explore the blank pages of my sketchbook’

Completely funded by donations from family, friends, and supporters, the scholarship will be awarded annually to a new recipient for at least the next two years.

Wilson says the critically important conversations Denomie started through his work will live on through his continued representation in the art world. Through the scholarship, she believes Denomie’s work will continue to have a direct impact on artists.

“I plan to take some well needed time to explore the blank pages of my sketchbooks,” said Thunder. “A practice that I know Jim would appreciate.”