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Rotary Club, businesses helping to create a new hub for Lakota artists at Whiteclay
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Rotary Club, businesses helping to create a new hub for Lakota artists at Whiteclay

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Quilter and jewelry maker Sara Fills The Pipe-Bass was excited to see a long arm quilting machine installed Friday in a former bar and liquor store.

The quilting machine is part of a project that’s rehabilitating the old Arrowhead Inn in Whiteclay, Neb., into Whiteclay Makerspace. When fully renovated and equipped, it will give Lakota artists and craftspeople a place to make and sell their work.

Whiteclay’s liquor stores were shut down in April 2017 by the state of Nebraska. A nonprofit corporation, Whiteclay Makerspace, was formed to purchase and overhaul one of those stores that are about two miles from the Pine Ridge Reservation.

Centers within the 3,000-square-foot Whiteclay Makerspace will give artists and craftspeople dedicated spaces for quilting and beading, painting and drawing, photography, and woodworking. The makerspace would like to find potters as well. The building also will have a conference room and an art gallery.

A $57,575 global grant from The Rotary Foundation will help provide essential tools and equipment. Rotary Club members Linda Peterson and Tom Katus of Rapid City and Ina Winter of Hot Springs, and the building’s owner, Jon Ruybalid, collaborated to obtain the grant.

Artists and crafters can purchase supplies at a reduced cost from the makerspace’s supply shop. Money from sales of materials will be used to restock the supply shop.

With winter approaching, Whiteclay Makerspace will offer local makers a warm, well-lit and safe place with enough room to work on their art and crafts, said supervisor Candi Red Cloud. Makers will pay $1 per day to use Whiteclay Makerspace; those funds will go toward basic operating expenses.

“I’m from the reservation. My hope is that it’s going to heighten their income more and they’ll have a place to come away from home and the distractions of home. They’ll come to an environment where it’s peaceful and the equipment is here,” she said. “It’s coming to fruition now. There’s life in it and I’m excited.”

Whiteclay Makerspace’s website, whiteclayredo.com, includes an online store. Fills The Pipe-Bass is one of four artists and artisans whose work is already for sale at the site. A percentage of sales will go to operating expenses for the Whiteclay Makerspace.  

On Friday, Peterson and other volunteers were “installing stuff like crazy” to prepare the makerspace to open. Staff from The Sewing Center in Rapid City was installing the 12-foot quilting machine and sewing machines, and training crafters to use them. Knecht’s in Rapid City installed sewing cabinets and lighting. Volunteers are needed for another work day on Oct. 10.

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“Rapid City business people have been very generous,” Peterson said. Betty’s Quiltery, JoAnn’s Fabric, Lowe’s and Knecht’s are among the businesses providing discounts on materials, she said.

“The donations are coming in, too. We’ve gotten $600 from local people and more coming. We have tools being donated and supplies — all kinds of stuff,” Peterson said. “We’re hoping 20 to 30 makers will use this space.”

“We were approached by Rotary. We’re always excited to help with anything that promotes sewing,” said Tammy Larson, manager of The Sewing Center. “It’s always exciting to help with something that culturally enriches.”

Fills The Pipe-Bass learned beading and sewing from her grandmother. She said the quilting machine will help her produce star quilts more quickly and sell them less expensively than making quilts by hand. Fills The Pipe-Bass also is grateful the Whiteclay Makerspace will have lockers where artists and craftspeople can store their supplies instead of transporting them to and from home.

“It’s nice to get all the new equipment coming in,” she said. “I am so excited with this quilting machine. … If they’re open every day, I’ll be here.

Fill The Pipe-Bass moved from Denver to Pine Ridge a few years ago. Having a place to make and sell her jewelry and quilts means she’ll be better able to stretch her finances.

“This is how we make ends meet at the end of the month. Being on a fixed income, it’s kind of hard. If you do this, it’s extra income,” she said.

Peterson said Whiteclay Makerspace would like to become a tourist destination where visitors can tour it and shop. When the COVID-19 pandemic ends, Peterson said the makerspace hopes to have summer sales every weekend.

Some grant money is designated for education. Next year, Peterson said, two Native trainers from First Peoples Fund will conduct classes. Artists who want to build small businesses can learn about finances, entrepreneurship, business practices and marketing, and hone their computer skills and professional development.

Ongoing donations of cash or in-kind items are welcome to support the makers. Whiteclay Makerspace currently needs a table saw, drill press, laser cutter, a Mac computer with Adobe Photoshop software, an airbrush tool, quilt hoops, leather tooling punches, stamps, awls, mallets, carpentry tape measures, angles, saws, miscellaneous hand tools, and a set of wood chisel hand tools.

For more information or to volunteer, contact Winter at kristine.ina.winter@gmail.com, Peterson at linda4rotary@me.com or Katus at tmkatus@gmail.com.

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