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In the Studio: Mikayla Patton

Mikayla Patton, an Oglala Lakota and Isleta Pueblo woman with medium light skin tone and chin-length straight dark hair, sits at an orange worktable, facing partially toward a white brick wall. She works with porcupine quills and handmade paper to create a sculpture. Various books, tools, and other materials sit on the desk.
Mikayla Patton at MASS MoCA's Assets for Artists residency, 2023.

Mikayla Patton is an artist based in State College, PA, and a 2023 Joan Mitchell Fellow. We interviewed her about her work and creative practice in March 2024. The following is an edited transcript of that conversation.


I am a multidisciplinary artist, working through sculpture, installation, and material. In my practice, I often use recycled, collected, and gifted materials to form my work.

Over the last four years, my work has shifted and flourished in different ways. I trained in printmaking in college, but right now, my work is sculptural. Sometimes I like to imagine that they are forms that want to be seen, or maybe they are moments trying to show themselves through an archival process. Part of the practice involves building up, embossing, stitching, and vesseling. I make these sculptures with paper pulp, repurposing unwanted or no longer needed articles of paper paired with natural elements like porcupine quills, dyes, glass beads, and wax.

“Enduring” is a sculpture of 2 rectangular wide cubes made of textured off white handmade paper floating next to each other, bound at the edges with tied white deer hide laces. Long strings of lacing hang down from the edges and pool on the floor. The front cube is higher up in the air, and on one face has a checkerboard pattern of tan porcupine quills protruding an inch from the surface. The front face of the rear cube has 6 horizontal lines of quills protruding.
Mikayla Patton, Enduring, 2023. Porcupine quills on handmade paper, leather fringe, ash, and thread, 18 x 15 x 16 inches.
A close-up photo of Mikayla Patton’s artwork, titled Enduring, shows black-tipped porcupine quills protruding from a white handmade paper box.
Mikayla Patton, Enduring (detail), 2023.

Much of my practice and the methods that I use stem from cultural practices. Some very good friends of mine and I used to joke (none jokingly) that we wanted to have the skills and power of our unci's (grandmas). Lakota women were and still are the backbone of our people. In turn, I'm always thinking about how their methods can be applied to the work I do today.

For example, sustainability plays a major role in my work. The practice of sourcing material from our current environment of discarded products, breaking it down and reforming it onto a screen, reminds me a lot of rawhide making. There is an extension happening where this material can continue to live and serve a purpose. That purpose might change someone's understanding of our environment, or at the least, influence some kind of thought process.

An artist’s studio in a basement with concrete floors, cinder-block walls, and natural wood ceiling beams. There is a central work table and a side area partitioned off with plastic sheeting.
Mikayla Patton’s studio in State College, PA.

For the past couple of years, I have been nomadic, but I am currently based in State College, Pennsylvania, with my partner and cat. We are both artists and converted our basement into a working studio with a ventilated wood shop. It took some time and I have not made any big works in it yet, but I think it's a sweet little space. Luckily, it has a window, so we get some natural light early in the day, but sadly I work more often at night. It's an intimate space with an ongoing buzz in the background from the air purifier. This is my first time having a solid space where I don't have to be prepared to pack up any time soon.

My process often begins with material. Because I was traveling a lot over recent years, different aspects of materials that I was coming across influenced how I was working. For example, when I was in Roswell, New Mexico, I visited the local museum and found this traditional Lakota dress that I eventually wanted to be in conversation with, which led to collecting books from the library that contained misinformation about Indigenous peoples. This then led to the installation, Visitation.

In a darkened museum gallery with gray floors, a traditional Lakota dress is displayed with dramatic gallery lighting opposite a group of sculptural box-like forms with dangling white threads and geometric imagery.
Mikayla Patton, Visitation, 2021. Laser cut and etching on handmade paper, acrylic with glass beads, porcupine quills and deer lace, installed dimensions vary.

While I was in Wyoming for another residency, I was coming across a lot of unfortunately lifeless porcupines on the side of the road. I made my offerings to them and collected their quills and they later became a part of another installation of work.

Now that I am in a more stable environment with a studio, I am using this time to explore more processes and find ways to collect more paper locally. I'm excited to learn more about mold making and casting. Because of my background in printmaking, sculpture and installation translate differently for me.

On an orange worktable, Mikayla Patton’s hands work with porcupine quills and dark handmade paper to create an element for a sculptural artwork. Various tools and materials are on the surface of the table.
Mikayla Patton working with paper and quills at MASS MoCA's Assets for Artists residency, 2023.

Lately, I’ve been very interested in forms and the non-human energies that they take. I am a very spooky type of person, and I grew up listening to powerful stories. They usually exist to teach us things about ourselves, but the people that have these personal experiences were always very chilling. Now, I still listen to stories via podcasts that talk about unexplained situations. It feels far out there, but it's something that lives within our communities.

Often, I am working off shared themes of growth, healing, and how those bring some kind of renewal not just of materials but within ourselves. I am not a storyteller—my train of thought starts and ends in a nonlinear order, so I could never tell a good story—but I think that I pull from reality and stories about spirits for my work. I enjoy giving them a sense of agency, believe it or not. This is what I'm thinking of now, but that may shift slightly later.

Anpa Kazanzan Win is a sculpture created with four stacked rectangular boxes, staggered at different angles. Each box is created with white handmade paper that is stitched together at the seams. The faces of the boxes are embellished with geometric patterns and abstract imagery.
Mikayla Patton, Anpa Kazanzan Win (Daylight Womxn), 2019. Laser cut and deer lace on handmade paper, 12 x 12 x 24 inches. Photo by Red Cloud Heritage Center.

My work has always taught me a lot about myself and motivated me to push through a lot of hardship. I’ve always had a need to learn in order to keep moving forward. With my cultural background, the more I was making, the more I was understanding the history of my people and our relationship in this country. Representation, continuation, and understanding pull me into my work. I understood the negative effects of stereotypes and wanted to build away from that.

This may change in the next few days or months, but right now, as an artist, I am embracing the changes and challenges that arise in my work. There are days and sometimes weeks where I get stuck on one thing—usually writing—but once I am able to pull myself through it, I am able to learn from that.

Interview and editing by Jenny Gill. Learn more about Mikayla Patton’s work at mikaylapatton.com and on Instagram.

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Artists' Voices