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Oscar Howe (1915-1983)
Oscar Howe Art Center

South Dakota Art Museum

Fred Jones, Jr. Museum of Art

Montclair Art Museum

American Indian Relief Council

Ed Resources

The Weekly South Dakotan

Oscar Howe's great-grandfather, Chief White Bear, signed the 1876 treaty giving the Black Hills to the United State.  Another great-grandfather, Bone Necklace, was chief of the Lower Yanktonai and addressed the 1886 meeting of the Northwestern Indian Commission in South Dakota.

As a child, Oscar Howe (Mazuha Hokshina - Trader Boy) spent long hours drawing in the sand of the river bank and sketching with pieces of charcoal.  Just as he reached school age, he was diagnosed with a serious skin disorder which caused open sores.  He was sent 50 miles away to attend Pierre Indian School.  Only English was allowed; he spoke only his native language.   Punishment for breaking rules including flogging, being pushed into hot radiators and whipping with a rubber hose.  His mother died.  His disease worsened.   He was nearly blinded by trachoma.  At age 10 he thought about jumping from the second story hospital window.

He was sent back to the reservation where, due to scrubbing twice a day with strong commercial soap, his disease improved.  Howe returned to school where he graduated from eighth grade at age 18.  Then he was diagnosed with tuberculosis.

Howe was sent to Santa Fe Indian School because of the favorable climate.  It was while he was here that he sold his first painting.  He was Salutatorian when he graduated in 1938.

He returned to Pierre where he taught art at the Indian school in exchange for room and board.  In 1940 the South Dakota Artists' Project of the WPA gave him a commission to paint the ceiling of the Mitchell city library.  He did so well that he was given a scholarship to study mural painting at Lawton, Oklahoma.  He was then selected to paint ten murals in the Mobridge, South Dakota city auditorium.

Before he could complete the project, he was drafted.  But city leaders were successful in receiving an extension so he could finish. 

While in Germany he met Heidi Hampel.  Upon returning to the U.S. he won an art prize from the Philbrook Art Center in Tulsa and used the money to transport Heidi to America.

He attended Dakota Wesleyan University (Mitchell, SD) where he was named acting chairman of the art department while he was still a senior.

Howe later served as art director for Pierre secondary school.  He was also in charge of designing the Mitchell Corn Palace for many years.

He was named "South Dakota Artist Laureate" in 1960.   Howe was featured on the television program, "This is Your Life."   He earned a master's degree from the University of Oklahoma and received three honorary doctorates from other universities.

In 1958 he changed the direction of Native American art when his works were rejected by the Philbrook competition because they didn't fit the established guidelines for "traditional Indian painting."  His kind but firm reply to the rejection resulted in a change in exhibit policy the next year.

key2.gif (90 bytes) Oscar knew Howe to change things.