As a young boy, Matagi Sorensen believed it was unlikely
he’d have the opportunity to attend a university. Raised in a family of modern-day
nomads who travelled from hotel to hotel creating and selling art, Sorensen had
to stay focused on contributing to the family income and helping his parents and
siblings get by. Sometimes, this meant going hungry for days at a time, or
sneaking into hotel rooms to get lower rates.
Amid the chaos, Sorensen clung to one factor that provided
him a sense of control and sanctuary - creating artwork. In the hardships of
his early life, Sorensen forged a passion that drove him to graduate from Northern
Arizona University with honors and begin a successful career as a
The first step
A member of the
Yavapai-Apache Nation, Sorensen and his family moved to a tribally owned RV
park on the reservation when he was 15. This newfound stability gave Sorensen
the chance to enroll in a tribal summer program a year later. Observing
his natural talent in art, the tribe's members encouraged Sorensen to seek higher
education and earn a diploma, support that Sorensen explains was instrumental
in his progression as an artist.
“I got a lot of support from the Yavapai-Apache Nation, and then
from Northern Arizona University with scholarships, being a first-generation
student, and a single parent,” Sorensen says. “It made a big difference just to
have that backbone I could rely on.”
Sorensen explains that while he knew general art degrees
existed, he wasn’t aware that earning a degree in fine art was possible until
he visited the university. This discovery opened a new world of possibility for
"My dream wasn't ever to be an artist - I didn't have a
dream,” he says. “The whole idea of a degree was vague – to those around me,
art was something you ‘do on the side.’ When I learned that art could be the
emphasis at Northern Arizona University, and you could teach art, or get into
galleries, that opened a lot of doors for me. I was able to see there's a whole program to
follow that could help me once I got out of school. The university helped me
structure and realize a dream."
Not long after attending his first semester, Sorensen
realized the benefit his education would have on refining his skill and
creating a career out of metalsmithing.
“One of the really important things about a formal education versus just making art on your own is you learn how to finish the work and make
it museum quality,” Sorensen says. “The other part was learning how to sell it
and understanding the market. It is unusual for bachelor’s degree programs to
go into the business aspect of art, and it helped a lot.”
Encouraged by his professors, Sorensen applied for and won
the Whiteman Scholarship for Fine Art—the largest art scholarship offered to a
Northern Arizona University student.
“My professors were very supportive with suggesting
scholarships for me,” Sorensen says. “The financial aid from the Whiteman
Scholarship allowed me to invest in my bachelor of fine arts show and create
art, and helped me make that transition from student to artist. It tells you
something about yourself and your work when you can get a scholarship, and
gives you the kind of esteem that you really need.”
The Whiteman Scholarship provided Sorensen a boost in his
confidence, and it, along with the capstone BFA show, boosted his recognition
in the community. Following the award,
Sorensen was interviewed for SchoolArts
magazine, the Lumberjack newspaper,
and Mountain Living Magazine; he was also
nominated for the Viola Awards, which recognize artistic excellence in the Flagstaff community, in the category of Best Emerging Artist.
Not long after, Sorensen launched his own website to feature
his work, created an art program at his daughter’s school, and donated work for
“Building the confidence to launch my career was huge,” he says.
“The scholarship and the capstone project helped a lot, but on a personal
level, my professors got me thinking about art as a means of discovery and
problem solving. That idea has helped me in so many aspects of my life,
especially as it relates to helping me help my daughter to learn in ways that
work for her.”
In 2011, Sorensen graduated with a bachelor of fine arts
degree in metalsmithing. Since graduating, he has been in several juried shows,
and continues to grow his business and perfect his craft. He hopes his story will inspire another
generation of artists who follow their passion and use their work to navigate
through struggles in their lives.
“I think the biggest suggestion I have for
others is to not quit,” Sorensen says. “It’s really easy to quit, but you have
to keep working. It’s about putting yourself out there and not giving up.”
Visit Matagi's website—Sorensen Silver Fine Art—and his online shop Matagi Fine Art.