Circle of Life

A virtual exhibit and fundraiser for the Birchbark Kid project

Boozhoo (Greetings).


In the Circle of Life exhibit, Pat focuses on individual elements of animals, insects, plants, stars and the heart. The relationships within these elements form an ecosystem.


Every factor in an ecosystem or Circle of Life, depends on every other factor, either directly or indirectly. A change in the temperature of an ecosystem will often affect what plants will grow there. Animals that depend on plants for food and shelter will have to adapt to the changes, move to another ecosystem, or perish.


Native American tribes of North America developed a complex lifestyle based on native plants and animals. This exhibit honors that circle of life.


The Birchbark Kid Project

“The first thing I made when I was a kid was a little winnowing tray for throwing wild rice. I made my first little canoe at six. I liked birch and wanted to work with it. But lot of the time I didn’t feel included because I was a half-breed. I was shy. I was short. So I had a lot to prove.”


The Birchbark kid is a beautiful, luminous picture book based on the true story of the life of Ojibwe Birchbark and quillwork artist Pat Kruse. Pat is a Red Cliff Superior Chippewa Band member and his mother is Mille Lacs band Ojibwe. He is an artist who has been teaching culture and creating works of art rooted in the Ojibwe traditions for more than 30 years. But it hasn’t been an easy road for Pat. From early on, he discovered the pitfalls of being a light-skinned Native American. He was, as he put it: “between the two worlds” and not fully accepted by either.


The Birchbark Kid is a heartwarming and sometimes heart-wrenching transformational story of a boy discovering his purpose, and how he stays true to it despite tremendous obstacles. It’s also a fascinating glimpse into the ancient craft of birchbark work.


Our story begins when young Pat gets curious about the birchbark artisans on the reservation, particularly Ben, the venerable old canoe-maker. Ben and the other artists are busy and don’t want to bother with anyone they don’t see as “serious.” But Pat is persistent and curious. “They didn’t  tell you how to do things. They might give you a few hints and give you some materials to take home. But you had to show that you were committed.”


In addition to negative perceptions of mixed-race Native Americans, young Pat faces other difficulties, among them poverty and dyslexia. When his son Gage is born, Pat becomes even more motivated to learn the art of birch so that he can provide for his family. A few things sustain him through many trials. One is his desire to learn and honor Ojibwe traditions. The other is Pat’s mother Clara, who supports him along his path with wisdom and love.


“Some people were doing bead work or leather work,” Pat says. “Some people were good at being deer hunters. I was not good at a lot of those things, but I could do birch. Because it was something I really was passionate about.”


This is a this richly-illustrated story, full of visuals inspired by Pat Kruse’s exquisite birch and quill work. In the Birchbark Kid, we see how Pat grows as a man and an artist, and how - through his work with birch - connects past and future generations to embrace “all the colors of the tree.”

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The Virtual Fundraiser

With your secure, online purchase of any art in the Circle of Life collection (ranging from 3" x 5" to 8" x 8") you support:

  • the advocacy of birch as a value tree

  • the fight against racism

  • cultural identity and uniqueness

  • Ojibwe birchbark traditions and history for future generations


Your contribution will greatly aid in covering publishing and production costs in the making of The Birchbark Kid. All contributions go directly to Pat Kruse for the Birchbark Kid Project.

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