Veteran Students of IAIA


The Institute of American Indian Arts includes many veterans among its student body. In light of the Veterans Day holiday, two veterans, Jeffrey DeMent and T’cha Cosgrove, were interviewed to discuss their relationship with art and how they came to Santa Fe and IAIA.

Jeffrey DeMent leaned back onto a brown cabinet near the entrance to his workshop. His arms folded across his chest and his head bowed slightly as he pondered just how he wanted to sum up his experience with his craft.

“Art gave me a new purpose,” he said. “A reason to exist.”

T’cha Mi’iko Cosgrove recalls a long life of military service, a frustrating college experience, and decades of journalism and photography before receiving information from some of this friends about an interesting little college in Santa Fe, information which caught his attention.

And for the past five years, IAIA is where he has been.

DeMent’s Art After Service

DeMent spent 16 years in the military, first as a combat engineer in the Middle East, tasked with handling and neutralizing Improvised Explosive Devices and ordnance. He then spent six years in a military police role before being injured in 2011, and medically discharged in 2014.

Having been injured in the line of duty and separated from the military, DeMent found himself drawn to silverwork as a way to help adjust to civilian life while living in Saint Louis. However, he realized that he wanted to reconnect with his Native roots, so he moved west to Santa Fe.

“It seemed like the place to be if I wanted to be an artist,” DeMent says. “I really liked the arts and culture here. It’s kind of inspiring in a way.”

Connecting with Culture Through Art

Growing up in southern Missouri, DeMent had felt disconnected from his Native culture. He decided to use traditional silverwork, involving a method of casting the silver using tufa stone as a mold, to help to reconnect with that culture.

“Some people will make something really fast and then go sell it at the plaza. Me, I don’t want to do something like that. I put a piece of myself into every work I make,” said DeMent as he stood in what would soon be his former workshop.

DeMent is moving to a new workshop. Around him sit metal tools in plastic bags, piles of plywood that have yet to be moved and a flatbed trailer loaded with all sorts of supplies, waiting to be moved to the new location, where he will continue to work his craft.

Cosgrove and His Artistic Experience

Casgrove did not wish to discuss his military history, however he fondly recalls the first time he went to tour IAIA with his youngest son. “When we left, my son looked up and said, ‘Dad, I want you to come to school here.'”

Forty years ago, Cosgrove found college to be a frustrating experience. His constant attempts to ask questions in a class of hundreds of people, where he was a minority, proved enough for him to drop out.

Cosgrove then became a journalist and a photographer despite being color blind. However, Cosgrove realized that his colorblindness allowed him to look at a photo in a new way, focusing more on contrast and composition then color, and finding appreciation in aspects of photos that others might not.

“I kinda feel the picture,” Cosgrove says. “There’s a closer connection to the image that I’m looking at.”

An Appreciation of Education

After many years as a journalist and photographer, Cosgrove was introduced to IAIA by two of his friends that had gone here. He quickly found that this was the place that he wanted to go.

Cosgrove finds appreciation in all the courses he takes, even the required ones.

“Each of those classes helps us become better in the craft that we decided to work in. You get ideas from the past, and carry that into the future. I think the students don’t understand that these elements are important.”

Gosgrove will be graduating soon with a bachelor of fine arts in studio arts. When talking about his future, Cosgrove says that he wants to come back to IAIA after a year or so to get a creative writing degree to complement his current studio arts major.

“This school is like a magnet. It always draws people back to it.”

Feature Photo obtained from Pipstone Star.


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