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Drifter paints life on the plains

Published: Oct. 28, 2020 at 10:23 AM MDT
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RAPID CITY, S.D. (KEVN) - Art is an outlet for creativity - a medium for self-expression - and on life’s canvas, people of all backgrounds paint for a purpose.

For 64-year-old Elton Three Stars, his drive comes from inspiring others through his artwork. The Martin-native became fascinated with drawing at a young age after looking at a Martin Grade School classmate’s sketches.

Soon after picking up the pencil, others noticed Three Stars' eye for detail: “the teachers, the principal, the staff ... they seen I had a talent ... because everyone was impressed with the way I was painting and drawing and that gave me a feeling of euphoria."

A colorful scene painted by Elton Three Stars depicts a horse running towards the viewer as...
A colorful scene painted by Elton Three Stars depicts a horse running towards the viewer as lightning flashes in the background. Lightning and stars, seen on the horse's hind, are common motifs in Three Stars' work.(Dominik Dausch)

Three Stars has spent decades creating works of art influenced by his cultural roots and representing his desires and feelings. However, widespread fame has not found him and some unkind years have left the starving artist without a home.

“I used to dumpster dive. I knew exactly when they had food - fresh food - and when it was fresh, I’d eat,” Three Stars recounts.

One source of shelter has been a garage he sleeps in at night. Once morning arrives, the traveling artist hops on his bike and pedals for miles to peddle his wares at fairs and rodeos.

The daily grind has been a boon on his body: “for going on 65 years old, I think I’m in good health.”

He continues to create with a little help from The Hope Center, which provides a space and materials to pursue his work and his dream. One of his latest works is a portrait of a dam and her mare “together in harmony,” as he puts it.

Martin native Elton Three Stars holds up one of his latest paintings depicting a dam and her...
Martin native Elton Three Stars holds up one of his latest paintings depicting a dam and her mare for a photograph. The traveling painter travels miles away by bike to sell his artwork at rodeos and art fairs.(Dominik Dausch)

Hope Center Volunteer Coordinator Roxanne Andre noticed the pick-me-ups breathed new life into an artist whose lightning bolt motifs spark joy in others.

“It seems to have given him a good boost mentally and he seems really positive,” Andre said.

Despite his living conditions, the Martin artist’s newfound purpose is driving him towards his big-picture goals: “to get my own art studio, my own place to paint ... it gives me energy to continue on my art career,” Three Stars finished.

Elton Three Stars, 64, holds up a print of one of his paintings for a photographer. The...
Elton Three Stars, 64, holds up a print of one of his paintings for a photographer. The Martin-native often gives away prints for free - rarely, he donates paintings, such as the artwork depicting an eagle and a horse in the background of this photo.(Dominik Dausch)

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