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Oscar Howe


Oscar Howe was a Yanktonai Sioux Indian, born on the Crow Creek Reservation in South Dakota in 1915.
Howe attended the Prierre Indian School until he reached 18-years of age. Then he went to the Santa Fe
Indian School to finish his high-school career. While in high-school, Howe was already doing exceptional
work following the studio style of art. He had exhibits state wide from New York City to San Francisco
and abroad in London and in Paris.

Oscar Howe spent a few years teaching art, at the same school he had attended during his childhood,
before he enlisted into the United States Armed Forces. During World War II he was stationed in Europe
for four years. In Europe is were Howe experienced a new style of art that later became a major influence
in his work.

After Oscar Howe returned to the United States, with his new bride, he taught art while working towards
his undergraduate degree at the Dakota Wesleyan University. Howe earned a Master of Fine Arts degree
from the University of Oklahoma in 1954.

There, Howe began to develop his personal style which included cubism mixed with Sioux influences. In
1957, at age 43, Oscar Howe was appointed Assistant Professor of Fine Arts at the State University of
South Dakota. During the same year he also held his first one-man retrospective in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

Oscar Howe's style of painting, in the later years, was marked as New Indian Painting. Howe was and is
considered a pioneer of this new form as it began its rise in the 1950's. Native American artists moved
beyond the Traditional Indian Paintings and began to develop a style using modern characteristics such as
Cubism and Abstract Expressionism. This is easy to see in Oscar Howe's Horses, 1963.

Their are several factors that caused the shift from Traditional Indian Painting to New Indian Painting. One
of these factors was the World Wars in which Indian soldiers had the largest number of enlistments. When
their duty was up and the Indian soldiers returned home ceremonies to purify them were held to welcome
them back. Also, as in the case with Oscar Howe, Native American artists in the 1950's were for more
widely exposed to the national and international art scene than the artist that came before them had been.
Oscar Howe, I found to be a lot like Robert Henri although they used different styles Howe and Henri both
painted what they knew. All of Oscar Howe's paintings I have seen thus far have dealt with the Indian
culture. One example would be his painting Ghost Dance , 1960. This painting, I believe to abstract
expressionism, it is a water color painting where the dancing figures are distorted yet you can make out
some of the feet and heads. The Ghost Dance refers to the Ghost Dance Movement in which ritual dances
were performed to bring back dead loved ones and make them invulnerable to bullets. The United States
government ordered a ban on Ghost Dancing afraid of large gatherings of Indians. The Lakota Sioux, in
violation of the ban, held a Ghost Dance. The government sent troops to stop the dance and ended up
opening fire on the Lakota Sioux with automatic weapons. The death toll was over 200 men, women and

Oscar Howe has earned many awards from 1947 to his death in 1983. He has many private collections as
well art in museums and galleries all across the country side such as the Gallup Art Gallery in Gallup, New
Mexico; Denver Art Museum in Denver, Colorado; and the U.S. Department of the Interior in
Washington, D.C. Howe's Murals decorate several public buildings including the Corn Palace in Mitchell,
South Dakota. Also, located at the Joslyn Art Museum in Omaha, Nebraska is a permanent collection.

I have always enjoyed art and I have always felt I had a good eye for art. In the past I have found myself
seeing modern art such as Cubism, Abstract and Abstract Expressionism as bad art. It seemed to easy to
do. How hard could it be to distort faces or throw paint on the wall? Now, after taking this class and
looking at different artist and art pieces including Oscar Howe I look at art through a different perspective.
Hearing and seeing what drove some of these artist to create what they did helped me to see what the
message was the artist was trying to get across. Where once there was simply distorted figures, their is now
pain and suffering trying to keep a way of life alive.

I wish I knew the story behind all of Oscar Howe's paintings. I believe I could learn more about the Native
American culture through his paintings than I could through any history book. His paintings not only bring
across factual information but they also create a environment in which the viewer can feel, something I
think all good artist need to be able to do.

Oscar Howe was not only an exceptional artist, he was also a successful teacher. It was primarily through
his efforts that it became acceptable for Native American artists to break away from Traditional Indian
style's to other artistic styles such as New Indian Painting. Howe's goal was to express truths through his
paintings that were once deeply personal to him and his people. In 1969, he wrote, What I hope to
accomplish in my painting is satisfaction in content and form with completeness and clarity of expression,
and to objectify the ³truths² in Dakota culture and present them in an artistic way.² Through looking
through his work, I like many other people felt he accomplished this with great success.


Legacy of the West, 1982. Josyln Art Museum/Center for Western Studies. 65/66.
Native American Fine Art Movement: New Indian Painting; 03/10/97;

The Oscar Howe Collection; 03/10/97;