When Bill Brien got the call for artwork in the search for Olivia Lone Bear, he knew he had to help.
"With art, it's an expression showing unity, hope and family because, at its core, that is what art is about: family working together," the Bismarck man said. "Contributing a piece to find Olivia is the least I could do, but also praying for her and a safe return for her."
Brien donated a star he designed as a tribute to Lone Bear, who has been missing from New Town since Oct. 24. He said he never considered himself an artist until he began designing a couple months ago — funny, considering the artistry in his veins as the son of Bennett Brien, who designed the Fighting Sioux logo and sculptures on the North Dakota Capitol grounds.
From his perspective, the art has connectedness, from Lone Bear’s disappearance to his wife’s cancer. He started an art company, Bountiful Rei’s, to express his and his wife Geri’s experience with cancer.
“My wife has cancer. Olivia is missing. It’s all one and the same,” Brien said. “We’re here to help one another. We’re here to carry each other when times get tough.”
Lauren “LoLo” Head was the first artist to donate a piece of art to Lone Bear’s family. The Colorado woman of Irish and Mayan heritage said the Lone Bears’ social media posts caught her eye. She also has a sister who is Lone Bear’s age and said she wanted to make the Lone Bears something from love.
After she reached out, Matthew Lone Bear asked Head to coordinate the artwork his family has received as a response to his sister’s disappearance.
“In their darkest hours, when they are feeling alone and it’s a moment where they may feel the despair setting in or the hopelessness setting in, I believe that we’re here for (them),” Head said of the art’s meaning. “We may not know you personally, but our souls are here for you.”
Matthew Lone Bear said about 20 people have donated graphics designs and paintings to his family. Much of it is displayed on the Facebook page, "Searching for Olivia Lone Bear."
“We want to do something with them, but we’re not sure what yet,” he said. “All of it’s really good.”
A graphic design is forthcoming for T-shirts advocating search efforts, he added, all part of keeping his sister visible as the days and weeks tick by since she disappeared.
Lakota artist Joe Pulliam, of Pine Ridge, S.D., donated a watercolor painting on antique ledger paper representing a woman in native dress with a cradleboard and butterflies.
A 25-year graphic designer, Pulliam said he took up watercolor to further his passions: making art and supporting others with his art, whether it be missing and murdered indigenous women, animal rescues or other efforts for reservation residents.
“It’s naturally in my blood and in my mind to help people, so whenever I’m asked, I think of it as an honor,” Pulliam said.
His piece took 10 hours to create, painted on a page from a ledger of land transactions in Sheridan County, Neb. Ledger art protests the perceived theft of his ancestors’ land, Pulliam said.
He and Head agreed that awareness has increased around missing and murdered indigenous women. With the advent of social media, search efforts are no longer limited to flyers and milk cartons, Head said.
"We haven’t given up on finding these women and these people that have gone missing," Pulliam said.
Even in the maw of a North Dakota winter, the Lone Bears continue to search. Matthew Lone Bear said Wednesday that warmer temperatures are on the horizon and tribal police have returned to strategize with volunteers after days of absence.
Head said she admired the Lone Bears’ perseverance.
“This family will not give up. They will never give up. I know this,” she said. “We will never give up. I can see for myself, I will never give up. If this is a lifelong journey, it is.”
Prayer also has been a form of outreach, Brien said, as he and Geri prepare to travel to Mayo Clinic, and as the Lone Bears continue their search.
“The journey that me and my wife are walking with this cancer, we hold everyone else with their struggles in our hearts as well,” he said. “We connect in that way even if physically we can’t go out and search.”