When life was put on hold during the COVID-19 quarantine, many people took on new hobbies to uphold a sense of normalcy in an otherwise uncertain time. Lance Smith has been creating art since he was a child, but it wasn’t until the pandemic that he started to take his craft to the next level.
“People have always told me that I had the gift to create art,” Lance said. “I didn’t have any formal training or schooling. It was always something I picked up and dropped again. It was an escape for me.”
Originally from the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma, Lance moved to Aberdeen over 30 years ago with his mother. While he’s lived in other cities throughout his life, nothing beats the slower pace and family ties that Aberdeen has to offer.
Lance explores several different themes in his art, often forming his pieces with specific feelings in mind. Animals and nature are common subjects in his paintings. He’s also always been interested in stars, planets, and the galaxy. Sometimes his art is political, but what’s most important to Lance is creating art that makes people happy.
“I want my art to be universal. It’s not only something that Native Americans can relate to, but all races can connect with it. I want people to feel peace no matter their walk of life,” Lance said. “I want them to be taken away into the piece for a few minutes.”
There’s no one definitive way to create art. Making perfect, photorealistic pieces may work for some people, but Lance has a different perspective. Fitting his art into one specific category is impossible. Creating something from nothing is one of Lance’s favorite things about making art.
“Part of the appeal is using my imagination to make something new, something one of a kind that no one’s seen before.”
His work is created with a wide array of mediums. Many of his pieces are acrylic paint on canvas, but his creative process doesn’t stop there. Lance has painted on logs, ceramic tiles, old ironing boards, and even shoes. Recently, he started wood carving too.
“I’ll paint on anything, anytime, anywhere,” Lance said.
Lance’s wife, Lanni Zephier Smith, helps a lot with his art. She has a strong interest in art herself, so her feedback is incredibly important to Lance. Her insight is integral to many of his paintings. For example, she helped develop the mythical lore behind the piece Shapeshifters and suggested he use deer specifically.
“She’s a good sounding board for bouncing different ideas. She helps me refine my ideas and helps me see things that I can’t. Her help makes me bring these ideas to life.”
Recently, Lance’s work has been recognized on a much larger scale. About half a year ago, he ditched his reluctance to get a Facebook page of his own and started to post his art. A group called Social Distance Powwow shared some work of his, and his online platform took off. People from around the world started buying his original pieces and prints of his paintings from his Etsy store.
“I’ve shipped things to England, Germany, and Australia,” Lance said. “I work in maintenance, so selling my art really helped me during the pandemic.”
Above all else, Lance values the positive feedback that people share with him. Although selling his art wasn’t his ultimate goal in the beginning, it makes him proud knowing his art is worth buying.
“What brings me the most pride is when a customer shares a picture of my art hanging in their home. Just knowing my art is good enough to get a compliment is an awesome feeling.”
While he’s had success sharing his art with the world, Lance is focused on how his art can impact the local community as well. His goal is to showcase more Native art throughout Aberdeen in businesses, hospital waiting rooms, and other public spaces.
“I’ve contacted NSU and I want to work with them to include more Native American art on campus,” Lance said. “I think it’s important to have Native art all over, and not just in the ‘Native section’. And if you’re going to have Native art, it’s important that a Native person makes it. Native-made is most authentic.”
Once the pandemic is over, Lance hopes to showcase his art in galleries across the state. Until then, he’s working hard on improving his craft with each passing day.
“Some people struggle to find their gift,” Lance said. “The pandemic made me think about what I was going to do with mine. It came from a really special, almost magical place, and I work hard every day to acknowledge that.” //