Merle Locke, Oglala Lakota Artist

To anyone familiar with the Pine Ridge Reservation, the Porcupine District specifically, the landscapes that cradle the subjects in Merle Locke’s paintings leave no doubt of his home and heritage. 

Even when he has lived off the reservation, Merle says he has been able to paint those landscapes so accurately because, “The land is in my heart; that’s where I grew up and I spent a lot of time looking out over those hills.” 

Winner of more than thirty jury awards, numerous logo and event design contests, two coin designs, as well as placement in the permanent collection of the Red Cloud Heritage Center, to name a few of his accolades, Merle began work as a professional artist in 1992. His first show was the 1993 Black Hills Expo, a juried market. “There were a lot of talented artists there. I felt I didn’t belong. But I ended up winning first place, for an oil painting, a portrait of a Lakota woman. Juried shows were important to my becoming a known artist. I was very poor at the time. I did a lot of traveling with my art.”

I have been interested in art since my childhood days. My father was an artist and taught my brother and I how to paint. I’ve always kept working on it since then; I love art. I have been doing Ledger art since about 1995. Lakota art traditionally doesn’t depict the person’s face. Instead, they are identified by the things that are shown around them. (Here Merle shows a painting depicting a warrior with a wavy blue line connecting him to a running buffalo.) His name is Running Buffalo. Red indicates victory, green signifies hope, blue means fast or swift. Dragonflies bring hope and prosperity. Historically, when warriors went into battle they were surrounded by dragonflies. The warriors would try to move like the dragonfly, so that they would be impossible to shoot. That’s why I include the dragonflies. My hope is on the next world.

In each piece I leave something out; I was taught to leave something for yourself. I also like to keep the pencil marks.Another thing I do in all my paintings is depict the full sun. I do this to honor the victory at the Battle of Greasy Grass, which took place at noon. I usually come across the title when a piece is almost at completion, after time and effort are put into it sincerely, the title will come to me. I pray my work goes to good homes.

Merle Locke Custer Buffalo Roundup


Merle’s work has included research of Ledger Art and he intends through his work to honor Native traditions and keep his work historically accurate.

He first sketches with pencil then outlines his Ledgers using archival quality, waterproof, fade, and chemical resistant Pigma Micron Ink. Ledgers are then painted with water-based acrylic. Canvases (unless otherwise noted) are also painted with water-based acrylic.