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Businesswoman reincarnates Native American art gallery

Dreamcatchers line the turquoise walls of Michaela Hald’s off-Strip art gallery.

Maybe they’ll help her snag a piece of the American Dream.

Hald isn’t an American; not yet. For now, she’s just someone who has invested nearly everything – her hopes, her future and her life savings – in this country.

The 36-year-old took a giant leap of faith this year, moving from Germany to Las Vegas to open IndianSoulArt, a Native American art gallery.

She knows it’s an unusual choice for a woman born and raised in the small city of Aalen, about 40 miles from Stuttgart.

"When in Germany as a young girl, you never hear anything about Native American art," Hald says carefully, still perfecting her English.

But then a friend back home who was passionate about Native American culture introduced Hald to it. Still a teen, Hald fell in love with "the art, the colors."

So when the opportunity arose to reincarnate the shuttered Las Vegas gallery of another friend, Christina Scherer, Hald – who formerly worked in real estate – felt like it was a perfect fit.

"I love the city, the desert, the mountains and the chance to do something I love," Hald says.

Scherer launched IndianSoulArt in 2004, but closed the gallery three years later for personal reasons. With her support, Hald reopened it in a new location, at 424 E. Sahara Ave., in July.

But it wasn’t so simple. First Hald had to secure a special "investor" visa that would allow her to start a business in the United States. The E-2 visa requires an investment substantial enough to ensure the successful operation of the new business.

The United States grants about 25,000 E-2 visas each year. Generally, the investment required is at least $100,000.

Hald put her life savings – she prefers not to reveal how much – toward the endeavor.

The visa also requires the investment go toward a "real, operating enterprise." For Hald, that meant traveling to Las Vegas in January on a temporary tourist visa to set up shop before she knew whether she would land the two-year, renewable E-2 visa.

Hald renovated space in a small strip mall. She pulled together a large inventory of Native American art and crafts – paintings, pottery, dreamcatchers and other items – that includes pieces left over from the old gallery and new purchases from art shows and the Internet. Then she flew back to Germany to complete her paperwork, wait and hope.

Weeks later Hald had an appointment at the U.S. consulate.

"I was standing there with a lot of emotions," Hald says. "What if they say no?"

But they said yes, and Hald, now an art gallery owner, was soon back in Las Vegas. Today, she proudly shows off her collection to visitors. It includes paintings by Cherokee artist John Balloue, one-of-a-kind totems, bone carvings and body oils mixed by a Native American medicine woman. The gallery focuses on displaying works by young Native American artists.

"It was important to have things you don’t find on every corner," Hald says.

Business isn’t yet brisk, but she didn’t expect it to be.

"This is normal," she says. "It’s not full the first day. Not a lot of people know I’m here. This is why I have to work so hard."

Hald keeps the gallery open six days a week – from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday. She’s always working on the gallery’s website: indiansoulart.com. And she buys booth space at the occasional nearby powwow to introduce people to the gallery.

She’s gotten used to the strange looks.

"It’s not normal to see a white woman coming alone" to the powwow and "building a canopy by herself," she says. "You see they are looking."

But everyone has been friendly and interested in her business, she says.

Hald is enjoying the challenge so much that she hopes to stay here forever. She’s working hard to make her business successful to ensure her visa’s renewal in a couple of years. She also applied for the latest "green card lottery" – a national program that grants 50,000 green cards to immigrants each year.

While her new life in the U.S. is an adventure, Hald knows she took a substantial risk.

"It’s a big chance," she says. "It’s normal to be afraid. You have to learn to handle those feelings."

She doesn’t dwell on any negative possibilities: "It’s better to think good things."

Contact Lynnette Curtis at Lynnette.Curtis@yahoo.com.

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