At first glance, you're so struck by the incredible detail and authenticity that you might assume that Sattler's primary objective is to create a historically accurate portrayal of his subject. Wrong. Although he is meticulous about creating a true-to-life depiction of the clothing, artifacts and cultural traditions of the Northern Plains Native Americans, Sattler is more concerned with capturing a sense of spirituality and reverence. He takes pride in having followed his own artistic path "I started researching Indians as a child" looking up details about how the Indians of the past looked and lived. All along he was learning to paint, but in his year studying art at Arizona State University, he felt he was pulled away from what he wanted to do – for example, his style of painting faces close-up, looking straight at you, was not encouraged – and into what others already had done. So he left school. In the years that followed he often worked day jobs while developing his skills. Earlier in his career his paintings could be more easily identified as representing specific Plains Indian tribes, because he was careful to follow certain known details of their appearance, evolving into a more generalized look, which in itself is true to life. He explains "With all the trading the Plains Indians did, their costuming was very, very individualized. So you can have a large latitude and still be authentic."
His current images evolve from history, ceremony, mythology, and spirituality of the Native American. Sattler's ultra-detailed interpretations examine the inseparable relationship between the Indian and his natural world, reflecting a culture that had no hard line between the sacred and mundane. Each painting functions on the premise that all natural phenomena have souls independent of their physical beings. Under such a belief, the wearing of sacred objects was a source of spiritual power. Any object – a stone, a plait of sweet grass, a part of an animal, the wing of a bird, could contain the essence of the metaphysical qualities identified to the objects and desired by the Native American. The acquisition of "Medicine" or spiritual power was central to lives of the Indian. It provided the conduit to the unseen forces of the universe.
The artist states, "I attempt to give the viewer of my work a sense of what these sacred objects meant to the wearer; when combined with the proper ritual or prayer there would be transference of identity. More than just aesthetic adornment, it was an outward manifestation of their identity and their inter-relatedness with their natural world."
Although his familiarity with the Northern Plains tribes might suggest to some that Sattler is a Native American, his lineage is strictly European. Originally from Cedarburg Wisconsin, his family moved to Colorado when he was 2 when the traditions and history of Native American still very much a part of the character of the American West. As he began to learn about the values that the Native American culture promotes, his fascination intensified. His memories of ceremonies bring back vivid memories. "Just the sound of the drums vibrating shook me" he recalls. "When I was young, I wanted to know how to be an Indian;" instead, he learned how to appreciate Native American culture." Sattler approaches his painting as a white man who doesn't pretend to be a Native American and who doesn't claim to understand the issues they face. Although he recognizes the boundaries that separate him from his subjects, his appreciation and respect for the Native American culture is no less genuine, and admires the reverence they have for nature. Sattler is the first to admit that his acrylic paintings fall solidly within the world of realism. Whether its blotchy stains on aged leather or delicate shadows in the creases around an elderly chief's eyes, his paintings breathe with experience. The canvas on which he paints almost seems to disappear, becoming more of a window than a piece of opaque fabric. "People will come up and actually touch the canvas, thinking the feather is going to move" he says Sattler has managed to achieve his unique style without much formal art education. He attended Arizona State University for a year but quickly realized that he didn't want to learn to paint in another person's style. After an accident in the early 1980's Sattler worked as a caretaker on a ranch. Virtually alone on the ranch without the distractions of urban living, he spent every spare moment painting and, in turn, discovered his calling in life. "I finally got to know who I really was," he says. "I found that I truly loved to paint."
Sattler mainly paints images of American Plains Indians, as they would have looked in the 1800s. Spending weeks at a time on minute details, such as the elements of a head-dress or the fraying of a feather or to get colors just right, he typically produces no more than six paintings a year.
Information and quotes from Michael Walsh, U.S. Art, August 1998 & Kenyon Jordan, Westside Pioneer December 2008. Used by permission