Northern Plains Reservation Aid (formerly American Indian Relief Council)
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Biographies of Plains Indians

Oscar Howe — 1915-1983

A Yankton Sioux artist, Oscar Howe was born on the Crow Creek Reservation in South Dakota. The great-grandson of the tribal historian, even as a child Oscar wanted to draw and paint. Although not encouraged by his parents in his artistic pursuits, Oscar continued to draw. Due to a skin disease that kept him inside he spent many hours alone practicing his art.

After being sent to a government Indian school Oscar ran away several times. Finally the school authorities sent the sick child home to be cared for by his grandmother. She taught him the traditional art of his historian great-grandfather, painting on buffalo hides. When Howe was twenty he contracted tuberculosis and moved to Santa Fe. Here he completed high school, studied art and recovered from his illness.

When Howe returned from World War II he graduated from Dakota Wesleyan University where he became the artist-in residence. He received a Master of Fine Arts from Oklahoma University. While teaching at the University of South Dakota Howe continued to paint. He created a liner abstract design concept that utilizes the formal elements of line, color and space to interpret his heritage.

At first critics did not accept his work citing that it did “not look Indian.” This criticism has been reversed over time and one of his most famous paintings Ghost Dance is in the Heard Museum in Phoenix. The Oscar Howe Art Center in Mitchell, South Dakota is dedicated to his work and there is a large collection of his paintings at South Dakota State University. Oscar Howe succumbed to Parkinson’s Disease in 1983.

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