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Artist Tracks Down Mystery Dancer in 1991 Portrait

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  • Artist Tracks Down Mystery Dancer in 1991 Portrait

    January 27, 2010

    By Joe Nickell of the Missoulian, provided by the Associated Press

    MISSOULA, Mont. (AP) — For three years, Missoula artist and carpenter Greg Millar searched in vain for anyone who could identify a Native American dancer in a photograph taken by his friend, Patrick Clark. Millar had crafted a portrait from that photograph out of intricately cut bits of tile; and as he labored over it, he vowed that if he ever sold the portrait, he would find the dancer and donate half of the proceeds from the sale to a charity of the dancer's choice.

    His search took him from Missoula, where that picture was taken at the Fort Missoula Powwow back in 1991, across the state, to the Governor's Office of Indian Affairs, and to anyone else who could offer leads on the dancer's identity.

    Little did he know, the answer was practically right under his nose. Even less would he have suspected that it would take a phone call from Germany to finally connect Millar with Arlee resident Bryan Brazill, the dancer whom Millar had stared at for nine months as he crafted the 3-by-5-foot mosaic portrait in the shop behind his home.

    "I'm just so thrilled, and amazed that after all this time I finally was able to figure out who he was," said Millar.

    Millar's search had all but fizzled out by the time he sold the portrait this past December. Though he'd been given plenty of promising leads over the years, none proved to be the dancer he sought. That changed when a story about Millar's search ran in the Jan. 4 edition of the Missoulian.

    "A lot of people called me and e-mailed me after that story came out," said Millar, "and several people were pretty sure they knew who it was."

    One of those people was Bruce Brazill, an Arlee native who is now serving in the U.S. Army in Heidelberg, Germany. When he read the story on the Missoulian's Web site, Brazill thought the dancer was his brother, Ryan, who currently is serving as a drill instructor for the Army at Fort Sill, Okla.

    Turns out he was wrong — but only by a generation. The dancer was in fact Bruce Brazill's father, Bryan — a fact confirmed when Bryan met Greg Millar last week and showed him the vest he wore on that day back in 1991.

    For his part, Brazill recognized himself in the tile portrait immediately.

    "He captured the essence of me," said Brazill. "You know, the way you walk into a room is different from how I walk, and he captured the essence of my movement. That's what I noticed right away, even more so than the feather hat or the bustle, just the gesture of my movement itself."

    Brazill has spent most of his life participating in dances at powwows around the region. Brazill said that when the photograph was taken, he was participating in a men's traditional special dance at the Fort Missoula Powwow.

    After meeting with Millar for the first time last week, Brazill spoke with his family and decided that he'd like to see the donated proceeds from the sale of the portrait — which Millar said will be approximately $3,000 — go to the Veterans Warrior Society of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes.

    "They're important in our culture because they help out with leading grand entries at powwows," said Brazill, "but more important, they help out with the wakes and funerals and represent our tribes across the United States."

    "I think the money will go a long way," added Brazill. "And since this (portrait) involves dance and Native American culture, I thought that was an important point to it as well."

    Artist Tracks Down Mystery Dancer in 1991 Portrait | Reznet News
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