When traveling for Travois, I meet many wonderful, inspiring people. I recently had the opportunity to meet my favorite Native artist, Jeffrey Veregge, on his home turf in Washington. I interviewed him and would like to share what he told me about himself and his work.
Jeffrey Veregge is a member of the Port Gamble S’Klallam Tribe, born and raised on the reservation in Kingston, WA. He was an adventurous young man, inspired by Indiana Jones, who traipsed through the woods with his cousins and enjoyed having clambakes with his large extended family. Growing up in an area where sports dominated the extracurricular activities, the young Veregge often felt left out. He preferred comic books, movies and television shows, and spent a lot of time alone or at the local library, he said.
“The library was my dealer, and books were my crack.” Veregge joked. He recalled a special relationship with Sue Jones, the librarian who would hold special books about robots and aliens back for Veregge whenever the library received new shipments.
Although he was a good student, Veregge found himself constantly drawing during class. After high school, he briefly thought about art school, but instead went on to work at the casino bingo hall. By the age of 23, he was a member of the Port Gamble S’Klallam Tribal Council and interviewed with the FBI. While making Star Wars Halloween costumes for himself and his young son, Veregge soon realized that the safe and secure job with the FBI just wasn’t for him. He enrolled at the Art Institute of Seattle.
After college, Veregge worked as a graphic designer for a marketing company. While he was happy with his position, he needed more of a creative outlet, and began creating and selling his own pieces that were influenced heavily by Pablo Picasso and Marc Chegal.
“My heart wasn’t into it. I always went into a project thinking ‘Who can I sell this to?’ or if it was commissioned, ‘Are they going to like this? Because I can’t tell if I like it or not.’ I was selling stuff, but I still wasn’t happy.”
Veregge decided to go back to the things that he loved — comic books, movies and nostalgia from his childhood.
“I decided that I was going to start doing stuff for me. Why not start making art that I want to see and stop worrying about what everyone else thought? I want to create what I like. I want to be that little boy who sees the magic of a white piece of paper.”
Inspired by the heroes he grew up with, Veregge combined traditional design from his Native culture with pop culture icons from his childhood.
“I love the world of heroes, I love what they represent.”
Veregge perfectly juxtaposes traditional design with modern references, and the result is beautiful Salish style pieces featuring his favorite super heroes that are full of heart. Batman, Superman and Spiderman come alive with coastal-inspired design.
“The whole reason to do art is to tell a story. The themes don’t change; it is always good versus evil and right versus wrong. I’m just taking modern myths and doing what my ancestors would have done. I’m telling the tale through art that people can relate to.”
Veregge wants Native kids to see that they can preserve their culture and also make it new. “We have a great culture, and we can do a lot more with it besides buckskins and wood carvings.”
The artist also has advice for other young Native artists.
“Keep drawing and don’t give up. There will be hard times and dark times, but if that’s what you love, keep doing it. Even if you don’t make it as an artist, you will be doing what you love, and that’s what is really important.”
Veregge also writes a column for Indian Country Today, has been featured in many articles, and has a booth at Comicon. Veregge works with non-profit agencies, and has done pro bono work for children’s hospitals.
“If we all do a little bit, just a little bit, take whatever gift we have and share it with the world without looking for anything in return, we can all be super heroes.”