Jim Denomie had his eye on a kind of fantastic other life beyond what we all see. In his painting "The Creative Oven" a figure sticks its head in an oven, not suicidal, but as a stand-in for Jim, who imagined the oven as a furnace of creation.

As cancer took Jim from this world, I imagined him peering through the oven to find the visions he painted. I see him traveling to his world of flying horses and tree people, of urban skyscrapers turned to plateaus, of woodlands filled with vividly hued mushrooms and rabbits, of female figures reclining not in a landscape but as land itself, as Earth Woman. I see Jim crossing the deep blue underpainting of a canvas finally big enough for him, an infinite canvas, a bridge of images.

Jim's art is crammed full of figures of all sorts — splendid, sordid, historical, animal, vegetable, mineral, machine. Though his family came first, Jim packed his life as full of friends as he filled his canvases with figures. All the 30 years I knew him, Jim's family shared him gracefully. My gratitude is immense. I hope Jim's family feels strengthened by a tremendous force, the combined cosmic jolt of love from Jim's one thousand friends.

Maybe Jim will be greeted in the next world by beings he introduced us to in what he referred to as his "spiritual" portraits — grinning, beam-eyed, faintly sad or leering, horned or frenzied faces. He will enter a world of familiar beings who showed themselves to Jim alone. Jim always greeted everyone with extraordinary warmth. I know that's what hundreds of people mourn, that finality of never running into Jim again and getting his hearty hello. Maybe the spirit beings came to him to be painted so they would get those greetings, too.

In the early 1990s, I was new to Minnesota. I met Jim while he was fixing a writer friend's broken banister as a favor. He was dressed in white work clothes flecked with what I thought was white paint. His thick hair was in a red bandana. I asked him what he did, and he said he was a painter. For months, because of how he dressed, I thought he painted houses.

Jim offered me instant friendship that grew to kinship. We talked about memories, futures, exhibits, friends, dogs and pie. We talked about family. Eventually he knew my siblings, parents, kids and spouse. We shared dreams and planned and schemed. He did me special kindnesses. The outpouring on social media shows I'm not alone. Ours is just one of a thousand great stories, a thousand strokes in a fantastically rich image he created in friendships.

Of course, although I feel him going into the universe, a part of me hopes Jim stays with us through his art. For all his surrealist images, his subjects were as down to earth as Jim himself. That world of Jim's imagination not only opens to the beyond, it goes beneath what we see here, beneath Minnesota Nice, beneath the excuses of politics and the coverup of history. His visions rise from ground fertilized by the blood of Dakota and Ojibwe people, of Natives at Standing Rock, Black mothers at George Floyd Square, repressed peoples across the map.

We came into the art world together — Jim as a painter, me as a poet. We shared visions, raucous humor and a drive to reveal the history and presence of Native people. My first book's release and Jim's first show at Two Rivers Gallery fell on the same date, so we shared the night in a book launch/art opening/wild party. Jim brought his one thousand friends and we both sold everything.

I saw Jim everywhere. At the Indian Center, a gathering for treaty rights, a poetry reading, a coffee shop, riding his bike, at the Native Arts Circle offices. That guy was everywhere! He knew everyone. He opened doors. He connected people and kept up with them. He glued the whole Native art scene together, and didn't stop there.

Jim had a profound work commitment, no matter what he did: drywall finishing (his day job) or an exhibit or arts advocacy. Jim and author Diane Wilson, his wife, worked continually for the Native and arts communities in the Twin Cities. From his mentorship of emerging Native artists, to serving on the board of the Minnesota Museum of American Art, from Diane's tenure at Dream of Wild Health to her Native writers group, their individual generosity created a synergy that drives a kinship in the arts and nonprofits, in the Native community and beyond.

Sometimes I worried and wondered if Jim's generosity was repaid by all those he helped. But a visit to his studio reveals fellow artists' abundant generosity, and dozens of items contributed as offerings for his found-object sculptures. In the past decade, Jim's paintings stood into sculptures. As if they came through that "Creative Oven" into our world, my husband says. I think he's right, they hold space and I hear them speak, but perhaps that's because I am a woman of words. Tributes, not transactions, are the currency of friendship. As a writer, all I could offer as tribute were words, so there are poems for Jim in each of my books. I always wanted to write more for Jim, about him, with him.

Not long after I met Jim, I was at a gathering on his home reservation in Wisconsin. I remember the words an elder spoke. A revered man in his nineties, he prayed first in Anishinaabemowin, then gestured around the room, saying to Jim: These people here will always look after you now and you look after them, too. I am so grateful that I was in that room. We took our elder's command to heart and became kin. Just a few were gathered, but today I think that elder might as well have gestured to a room of one thousand people because Jim looked after so many of the artists and writers and others he befriended. Jim did so — he does so — fiercely, steadfastly, and with that profound skill of exquisitely tricky humor that is Creation's gift to the Anishinaabeg.