January 30, 2005 by

Ernie Pepion

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Categories: Artists, Military

An automobile accident in 1971 cost Ernie Pepion the use of his arms and legs. While recuperating in a veterans’ hospital, however, he learned the skills he needed to rebuild his life and launch a successful career as an artist.
The doctors and nurses at the hospital showed Pepion how to feed himself, how to maneuver in and out of his wheelchair and how to rehabilitate his body. A fellow patient taught him how to paint with oils. Using a motorized easel and a brace for his hand and forearm, Pepion covered canvases with colorful depictions of American Indians and people with disabilities.
“Painting allows me to be a person beyond the limitations of racial prejudice and disability,” Pepion once said.
Pepion was a member of the Blackfeet Nation, a Native-American tribe in the northwestern part of Montana. Prior to his accident, he worked as a rancher and rodeo rider, and served with the military during the Vietnam War. After years of rehabilitation, Pepion attended Montana State University, where he earned a bachelor’s degree and a master of fine arts degree.
The Native Voices Public Television Workshop profiled Pepion in the half-hour documentary, “Ernie Pepion: The Art of Healing.” In 2003, his show “The Red Man Series” was featured at the Yellowstone Art Museum. He also won the 2005 Montana Governor’s Award for the Arts.
Pepion died on Jan. 12 of natural causes. He was 61.

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