MU artists build tepee for voyage out west

Tuesday, July 6, 2010 | 7:05 p.m. CDT; updated 2:04 p.m. CDT, Wednesday, July 7, 2010
Justin Rodier, right, puts up a custom tepee cover made by Sydney Pursel, left, over a frame in front of their house on Monday. Pursel spent a large part of the Fourth of July sewing the cover from a roll of nylon and velcro fasteners.

COLUMBIA — The Fourth of July prompts many people to think about American identity, but for some, that identity has roots reaching back further than 1776.

Sydney Pursel, an art student at MU and member of the Ioway tribe of Kansas and Nebraska, is one of those people. Pursel said she spent a big part of Independence Day sewing together a cover for a tepee that she put up in her yard with fellow MU artist Justin Rodier.

The tepee will serve as a movable art gallery during the couple’s month-long voyage across the American West, designed to promote their art.

“I’m interested in getting art out of the gallery system to a wider public,” Pursel said. “This tepee sort of reinvents the traditional tepee because it’s made out of metal and nylon instead of wood and animal hide, but it is cheap, lightweight and portable.”

Pursel and Rodier plan to visit about 11 states this month and will stop at Native American reservations and universities as part of their exploration of American culture. Rodier said the trip serves to promote various art projects, including his new website,, and The Ruthless Project, an artistic collaboration that he helped found last year.

Pursel said the tepee would house numerous pieces of art made by the pair as a comment on stereotypes of Native American life versus contemporary reality. They hope to set up the tepee in cities where they are a rare sight to prompt thought about the Native American experience.

The Ioway tribe of Kansas and Nebraska to which Pursel belongs used tepees for portability during the hunting season and in times of war, in addition to more permanent, earth-covered houses.

“One of my main interests is to break ideas about what Native American culture is,” Pursel said. “I’m interested in doing activist art, and the tepee is a mobile gallery and a statement in itself.”

Justin Rodier and Sydney Pursel set up a tepee in their yard on Monday. The couple, both art majors at MU, will be using the tepee as a portable art gallery during their month-long road trip across the western United States starting Tuesday.
Sydney Pursel directs Justin Rodier as he puts up poles for a tepee in their yard. Rodier said the tepee's frame is simply metal poles tied together with nylon rope and duct tape.
Seven tipi poles point skyward in the yard of Sydney Pursel and Justin Rodier.
Sydney Pursel holds together two ends of a tepee cover that she stitched together on Monday. Pursel is part of the Ioway tribe of Kansas and Nebraska, and draws from Native American traditions in her artwork.

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Glenda Campbell September 10, 2010 | 9:04 p.m.

Hi Cuz, I was surprised to see your name and photos when I logged on the "Ioway" movie site! (Your great-grandpa Emil and my dad, Glenn Campbell, are 1st cousins) Last time I saw you you were with your grandma Shirley at our pow wow. She was hoping to pass along our culture to you by having you dance at our pow wow. I'm sure she'd be very proud of you! I hope you're bringing your art to our pow wow, Sept. 18 & 19th! I'd love to see you and your story would be interesting to other tribal members. Take care

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