|Revolutionary, passionate, and talented are words that describe this South Dakota artist. Oscar Howe was born into poverty on the Crow Creek Reservation on May 13, 1915. He was a Yanktonai Nakota Sioux, and his Native American name was Mazuha Hokshina, which means “Trader Boy.” As a child he was very interested in lines. He would draw with charcoal from a wood stove or with sticks in the dirt.
Oscar was sent to the Pierre Indian School to receive his education. Because of serious health problems he was sent home to live with his grandmother, Shell Face. He spent many hours drawing and painting there. His grandmother taught him the art of painting on buffalo hides. Being the great-grandson of a tribal historian, Oscar would listen as his grandmother would tell him stories and legends of his people. He graduated in 1933 and went on to study art in Santa Fe, New Mexico. After graduating from the school in Santa Fe, he returned to South Dakota to teach at the Pierre Indian School until 1940. He was becoming famous for his paintings and was selected to paint the dome in the Carnegie Library in Mitchell and several large murals in an auditorium in Mobridge. During this period in his life he also illustrated several books. Oscar was drafted into the U.S. Army in 1942 and served in Europe until 1945. He returned to the States with a new wife, Adelheid Hample, and they had one child named Inge Dawn. Oscar attended Dakota Wesleyan University in Mitchell. While in Mitchell he began to design the murals for the “World Famous Corn Palace.” Howe’s time spent in Europe greatly affected his later painting style. He entered a painting in the Philbrook’s Annual National Indian Painting competition. His work was disqualified because it didn’t look “Indian” enough. In a letter of protest, he defended his work, and the judges created another category in the competition. Now he is sometimes called the “Father of the New Native American Art.” Oscar said, "One criterion for my painting is to present the cultural life and activities of the Sioux Indians; dances, ceremonies, legends, lore, arts . . .. It is my greatest hope that my paintings may serve to bring the best thing of Indian culture into the modern way of life.” Oscar was a professor and artist-in-residence at the University of South Dakota in Vermillion for 25 years. During his career he received many honors and awards, including Artist Laureate of South Dakota and the South Dakota’s Governor’s Award for Creative Achievement. He retired from USD in 1980 and died after a lengthy illness on October 7, 1983. The University of South Dakota in Vermillion has the largest collection of his works at the Oscar Howe Gallery. Some of his paintings can also be seen at the Oscar Howe Art Center in Mitchell and the South Dakota Art Museum in Brookings.Oscar Howe’s story illustrates how a man can overcome poverty, illness, and the prejudice of others to become a world renowned artist and educator. His determination to bring Native American art into the modern world is his lasting legacy.
|Home Town (Crow Creek, SD)|