Aberdeen veteran, Lakota woman featured in 50 states, 50 veterans portrait project
ABERDEEN, S.D. — United States veterans and military service members come from all walks of life, all cultures, all backgrounds.
That’s the sentiment behind ”We the People,” an art exhibition eight years in the making featuring 50 veterans from 50 states.
One of them is Kella With Horn, an Aberdeen resident and Lakota woman who served from 1986 to 1988 with the U.S. Army. In 2014 she co-founded the Lakota Women Warriors. It’s a Native American, female color guard made of veterans and service members from all military branches. They’ve been featured at a number of sporting and other events across the country. If the Kansas City Chiefs make the playoffs, they’ve been asked to come back, said With Horn.
“What sets us apart, we actually wear our military jackets with our regalia. People see that, yeah, you’re native, you’re a woman, but oh, I see you’re wearing an Army jacket, an Air Force jacket,” With Horn said. “Being a vet, I continue our oath of service by being involved in our community.”
It’s that regalia, that culture, that helped enrich Mary Whyte’s project. She’s the renowned watercolorist who found the 50 veterans and who created the 50 large portraits now on display in Charleston, S.C.
In a video, Whyte said she hopes people will recognize the heart of each person. A cowboy, a casino dealer and a clown are just some of the other portraits seen in the video.
With Horn’s heart is apparent. She speaks cheerily and with emotion as she recalls the moment she saw her own portrait at the opening exhibition. She knew CBS and PBS and other news agencies were covering the project, and she herself was interviewed, but she still hadn’t expected the level of buzz she was met with upon arrival.
“It was very emotional. It was very overwhelming. I got out of my vehicle and was stopped about 14 times for my autograph,” she said.
Her portrait had been a favorite of many attendees, or at least that’s what they gushed when they saw her in real life. She hadn’t even seen the portrait herself after doing a photo session with Whyte three years ago. Whyte was there, and must’ve seen With Horn’s shock.
“Mary, she grabbed my hand, and said, ‘Are you ready to see your painting?’ When I got inside I saw my picture and it was very emotional; to have somebody who took that interest to say ‘I’m going to paint your (picture).’”
With Horn’s Lakota regalia is red, white and blue. It’s a northern traditional buckskin dress with intricate bead and leather work, said With Horn. Her arms are spread wide to show the patriotic embellishments of the red sleeves trimmed in white fringe. She was impressed with Whyte’s attention to detail.
“She had to paint every one of those beads,” With Horn said. “(Whyte) had said, ‘I had to listen to a lot of music because yours took the longest to do.”
The exhibit will be on display through Dec. 22 in Charleston and then spend a few years touring the country. None of the portraits are for sale. Their expected permanent home will be in Quantico, Va.
With Horn’s military service was expected and a seemingly more popular goal than college for Native Americans, she said.
“That’s something I was always going to do,” she said. “College wasn’t something that was spoken of in our house. My mom didn’t graduate high school. My dad didn’t graduate high school. Going into the military actually prompted me to continue with my higher education and I got a masters degree. Military gives you that confidence and nothing seems hard after that.”