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Oscar Howe

Oscar Howe in his studio at the W. H. Over Museum at the University of South Dakota before it moved to its current location near the Dakota Dome.

Oscar Howe was born on the Crow Creek Indian Reservation (South Dakota) in 1915. He attended the Pierre Indian School until 1933. A natural and talented artist, he studied “The Studio Style” under Dorothy Dunn at Santa Fe Indian School. He had exhibited his traditional Yanktonai art work all across the United States, in London, and in Paris prior to his graduation in 1938. In 1940 he painted the interior dome of the Mitchell Carnegie Library. Prior to entering military service during World War II, he completed ten oil murals depicting the history of the Missouri River Basin on the walls of the Mobridge Auditorium.

In 1948, Oscar Howe was named Artist-in Residence by Wesleyan University in Mitchell, South Dakota, where he taught art and earned a Bachelor’s Degree. He earned a Master of Fine Arts Degree from the University of Oklahoma in 1954. He served as Director of Art for Pierre High School from 1953 until 1957, then was appointed Assistant Professor of Fine Arts, Artist-in-Residence, and Assistant Director of the W. H. Over Museum at the University of South Dakota in Vermillion. He was appointed Lecturer to the Near East and South Asia by the United States Department of State in 1971. During his tour, he presented programs in nine countries. He designed panels for the Mitchell Corn Palace from 1948 to 1971. Oscar Howe retired from the University in 1980 and was named Professor Emeritus of Art, a position he held until his death in 1983.

During his career, Oscar Howe presented 47 one-man shows, provided works for 13 major exhibitions, received 20 major awards and prizes, painted 14 murals, illustrated 4 major books, published 38 articles and literary works, and was named in 64 major publications. Through his art and teaching he realized his greatest hope, “[…] that my paintings may serve to bring the best things of Indian culture into the modern way of life.” Oscar Howe developed his own artistic style which was based on the Sioux culture and philosophy. He wrote, “It has always been my version of Indian traditions to make it individualistic in my own way, but every part comes from Indian and not White culture. I have been labeled wrongfully a Cubist. The basic design is Tohokmu (spider web). From an all-Indian background I developed my own style.” That unique and distinctive style (vision) utilized lines (linear, rectilinear, or curvilinear) which gave a dynamic, fluid movement to his paintings. Through his art and life, Oscar Howe left a legacy of individuality, innovation, integrity, excellence, and professionalism which serves as a model for future generations of the Native American artists.

Battle of Slim Buttes Diorama by Oscar Howe & Helen & Phil Redden, 1955.

Visitors can view the “Battle of Slim Buttes” diorama that Howe helped create as well as a print of his painting “Origin of the Sioux” on display at the W. H. Over Museum.

This information was written by Dr. Robert L. Freese, edited by Sonia Hernandez.