Austin Proctor

James Memorial Art Center Vice President Deana Novak, left, presents Austin Proctor with over $600 worth of gift cards for art supplies. Proctor lost everything, including his artwork and supplies, in an apartment fire in September.

After an apartment fire took everything, the local art community rallied to support a young artist.

Fire raged through the Valley Rental apartments early in September, leaving dozens without a home or possessions.

One resident was 21-year-old Austin Proctor, former Williston State College student and aspiring artist, who lost everything in the blaze, including dozens of original pieces of art and all of his supplies. Proctor had an exhibition of his work at the James Memorial Art Center in April, and his show was one of the most popular the gallery has had, with Proctor selling many of his pieces during the opening reception.

After hearing about his loss in the fire, the Board of Directors of the James came together and put out a call to the local art community. Members from the James, the Dakota Prairie Quilt Guild and private citizens came forward to offer their support. On Tuesday, Deana Novak, JMAC board vice president, presented Proctor with more than $600 worth of gift cards to Dick Blick, a popular maker of art supplies.

"Austin's show went so fantastic in April, and the community loved his artwork," Novak said. "When we heard about the tragedy of him losing everything, The James wanted to be able to give back to an artist who we've supported so that he can continue on with his work."

Proctor, who was unaware of the fundraising, was summoned by Novak to the James and became visibly emotional when Novak presented him with the donations.

"It's really shocking, to say the least," he said. "(The James) donated back one of my paintings that they had bought during my show as well, which is really cool because it's nice to have one of those, since the rest were lost. It's really kind of overwhelming."

Proctor said he had been struggling after the fire to find the motivation to continue painting, and with the expense of replacing his belongings, the art supplies he was able to purchase weren't of the greatest quality, but he made do with what was available.

"It's been really difficult," he explained. "For a while I haven't really confronted the emotional side about most of it, but as a goal of mine I've been locking myself up in my apartment just to paint things and just to keep going. I've been trying to keep my little art wheel going as much as possible."

Proctor said he doesn't know what the future holds in terms of an art career, but that he's more invested in creating artwork than profiting from it.

"When it comes to painting, I'm doing that all the time," he said. "It's still always going to be a hobby, but if I make money from time to time, I'm glad I do."

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