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Oscar Howe

Yanktonai Sioux

Oscar Howe

Oscar Howe, a Dakota Indian of the Yanktonais tribe, was born at Joe Creek on the Crow Creek Reservation of South Dakota to George Tikute Howe and Ella Fearless Bear. Howe’s childhood years were spent in the poverty of reservation life, and the military school style education of the Bureau of Indian Affair’s Pierre Indian School. When he spent time with his family on the Crow Creek, his grandmother, Shell Face, would instruct him in the glories of the old days and the legends of his people.

When Howe was very young, he was fascinated with line and would spend hours drawing lines with sticks of charcoal from the wood stove or with twigs in the dust. His talent and desire were recognized, and he was enrolled at the famous studio of the Santa Fe Indian School (1935-1938) where students were encouraged to take pride in their cultural heritage.

Ghost Dancer

Ghost Dancer

After a brief period as art instructor at the Pierre Indian School, Howe was selected to paint murals under the Works Progress Administration’s South Dakota Artist Project. He painted the dome of the Carnegie Library in Mitchell and several large murals at the auditorium in Mobridge, S.D. Howe served in North Africa and Europe during World War II. He later went on to earn his B.A. degree at Dakota Wesleyan University in 1952 where he also taught as Artist in Residence. He received his M.F.A. at the University of Oklahoma in 1954.

Howe received numerous national art awards and honors, including Artist Laureate of South Dakota, and his works are exhibited widely. He designed the murals for the Mitchell Corn Palace for over 20 years, from 1949 until 1971. He also served as a member of the art faculty and artist-in-residence at the University of South Dakota in Vermillion from 1957 to 1961. He was accorded the status of Professor Emeritus of Art in 1980. Howe died of Parkinson’s disease in October 1983. As a modern artist, Howe became widely recognized for his unique signature style, in which he often interpreted his heritage.


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