Howe, O ah.jpg
Induction Category & YearArts and Entertainment 1979
Home TownCrow Creek, SD
BirthMay 13, 1915
Joe Creek, SD
DeathOctober, 1983

   Oscar Howe
Champion of Excellence

Legends Bio
 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.
disqualified ineligible to do or take part in something
historian an expert in history
laureate a person who receives a prize or honor for outstanding achievement in the arts or sciences
legends a story that has been passed down for generations
murals an unusually large picture painted directly onto an interior or exterior wall
passionate expressing an intense feeling
poverty not having enough money for food, clothing, or a house
prejudice a preformed opinion, usually an unfavorable one, based on insufficient knowledge, irrational feelings, or inaccurate stereotypes
renowned well known or famous, especially for a skill
revolutionary so new and different it causes a change in something
Extended Activities

Oscar’s painting style changed over time. Compare one of his early pieces with one from later in his career. For an early piece, you might look at Webbed Hoop Game. For a later piece, you might look at Seed Game. Create a Venn diagram to show differences and similarities. Use the ideas from your Venn diagram to write a compare and contrast paragraph.

Common Core Standards 4.RI.9 (ELA) • 4.W.2 (ELA)

SD Standards

Many of Oscar’s paintings portray cultural rituals, such as Buffalo Dance. Find other examples of Oscar’s paintings and research the history of the ritual portrayed. Prepare a presentation to share the painting and the ritual with your classmates.

Common Core Standards 4.RI. 3 (ELA) • 4.W.6 (ELA) • 4.W.7 (ELA)

SD Standards

Select one of your favorite Oscar Howe paintings at the South Dakota Art Museum and at University Art Galleries as USD. Study the painting carefully and then write a letter to Oscar explaining what you like about this painting.

Common Core Standards 4.W.1 (ELA)

SD Standards

Create a poem about Oscar Howe. Try “Biography” or another form you like at Instant Poetry Forms.

Common Core Standards 4.W.9 (ELA) • 4.RL.5 (ELA) 4.L.5 (ELA)

SD Standards

Find and study a few of Oscar Howe’s pictures online. A few can be seen at the South Dakota Art Museum and at University Art Galleries as USD. With permission, print a copy of one in which you see a variety of polygons. With a black marker, outline the polygons you find. Need some help with some of the polygons? Check out Shape Facts to review.

Common Core Standards 4.G.1 (Math) • 4.G.2 (Math) • SMP 1, 2, 3, 7 (Math)

SD Standards

For over 20 years, Oscar designed murals for the Mitchell Corn Palace. The murals are replaced and redesigned each year with a new theme. Look at some photos of the Corn Palace from various years that can be found near the bottom of the Corn Palace homepage. You can click on an image to enlarge it. How about designing a mural of your own? On heavy paper or cardstock, draw a simple outline of a scene that represents South Dakota. Then use South Dakota seeds to fill in the outlines.

Common Core Standards

SD Standards

Oscar Howe Summer Art Institute

Oscar Howe

Decorating the Corn Palace
Image Gallery
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Oscar Howe.jpg
Home Town (Crow Creek, SD)
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