Matthew Lanz is an artist who works in Hot Springs, South Dakota. He is known for his Native American and Western themes, and has created numerous pieces portraying the rich Native American culture of the Black Hills.
Jacquie Biloff, communication director for the Dakota Conference, recently interviewed Lanz about his art and his Adventist faith.
Where are you from?
I live in the southern Black Hills of South Dakota. I grew up in Minnesota but left home at 19. Actually, the first time I ran away from home I was only six or seven. We lived in the country but I wanted to live with the cowboys and Indians. From my brief encounters with television, I had seen the handkerchief on a stick, so I started out.
A farmer who must have known my parents asked me, “Where are you going?” I told him about the cowboys and Indians. He said, “I know they live on the other side of the sunset. I’ll give you a ride.” I fell asleep in the truck and woke up at my house.
When did your love of art begin?
As a child I would ask my dad to draw me pictures of buffalo. He did, but sometimes he was too busy and would tell me to draw my own. He would say, “That is good. Keep it up.” In high school I started acrylics, then oils and finally sculpting.
At 25 I did my first cast into bronze. I just kept at it. It is a lot of tedious manipulating of the clay to get it where you want. I paint in oil and acrylic on linen, canvas and hides—elk and buffalo.
One of your sculptures is at the Rapid City Airport. Tell us about it.
I wanted to reflect the culture and heritage of the region. I thought of my boys. We lived on the reservation for 14 years, but they are not limited or restrained to that reservation. They can go anywhere in the world. I added the bi-plane to represent that. He [the sculpted] has his culture, his heritage with him—his suitcase, dance regalia and dance bustle, but also his dreams. My son is sculpted in there. Even the scars on his arm and finger are authentic.
How did you hear about Christ and the Adventist Church?
It has been a religious journey. My dad was a preacher but he quit when I was a kid. I grew up going to Sunday school.
While in my rebellious streak, I started to realize it was a stupid way to live. God was calling me back. I wanted my boys to know Him. A neighbor, Usani, saw how I was living. She gave me some religious tracts. Then she gave me more, then a whole bunch. She always talked about Saturday being the Sabbath. Finally, I started calling Saturday family day.
We watched pastors on YouTube and the boys listened to Your Story Hour. Then we watched Doug Batchelor and the boys said, “What are you going to do now?”
I guess we are going to have to go to church on Saturday, I thought. So we started attending the church in Hot Springs.
What about your dream of a Faith Park?
In historic downtown Rapid City is the City of Presidents, a walking tour of life-sized bronze sculptures on street corners. In Pierre, South Dakota, is the Trail of Governors. I would like to see a Faith Park with sculptured Biblical characters of strong, deep faith.
I can see Gideon kneeling by the creek watching, drinking water from his hand. I see David, not when he is throwing the stone to kill Goliath, but kneeling in prayer as he picks up the five stones. People could walk through the park, spend time in quiet reflection and meditate upon the associated Scripture and be inspired.
Art is more than my love; it is what God has given me. When my mom was pregnant with me she prayed to God, “I want my son to have a special gift from You.” He has given me that gift. It doesn’t bother me to do other things, but I feel I am wasting that gift if I am not doing art. If I could affect only one person, it would be worth it.