The following Oscar Howe paintings are available in limited, archival quality giclee reproductions through the University Art Galleries at various costs plus shipping.
For more information or to order, contact the director of the University Art Galleries Kate Skelly at Kate.Skelly@usd.edu.
Calling on Wakan Tanka
27" x 38"
The painting depicts a Sioux Indian family in the act of appealing to the Great Spirit to stop a storm from returning. The returning storm was thought to be more destructive because the Sioux believed that once a storm passed it should not return. The storm has created a fire in the prairie grass as the family prays to the Great Spirit, who responds with a bright flash of peaceful lightening. This is a good sign from the Great Spirit who can control the elements in response to their prayers. The buffalo skull represents life and the three figures represent three ways of Sioux prayer: The center figure in the usual peace pipe ceremony, the boy using a rock with a hand print as a totem or an altar and the woman representing the original way of smoke prayer. The inhaling of burned plant life from the earth symbolizes life from the earth to the sky and the cosmic or spiritual meaning of life in relation to nature and Wakan Tanka.
30½" x 24½"
In a dance for visions, the dancing figure appears by dimensional spaces and slashing diagonal pattern forms within a large recessive space. The different geometrical forms divulge the emotive aspects of the painting. The ghost dance, performed as a ceremonial practice, was performed to reunite both living and dead spirits which would bring about peace, prosperity and unity to native peoples. The dominant blue is peaceful and serves as a sign of prayer to complement the other colors as purity of thought. The painting includes the patterns of Sioux tradition in not only the depiction of the dance itself, but also within the line work of the piece.
29½" x 24"
The Head Dancer is the lead dancer in ceremonial dance. There are male head dancers and female head dancers who lead the rest of the dancers in the grand entry of a pow wow. Throughout the image, the geometric patterns that encompass the abstracted form of the dancer convey the movement and fluidity of the dance that is being performed. The dancer is holding a prayer stick, which is intended to make offerings and petitions to the spirit world. The blue throughout the painting represents the peace and tranquility that dancers try to attain while performing ceremonial dance.
19" x 15"
There is sublimity in the figure who has carried out the ritual of purification in the self-sacrifice ceremony, where part of himself is given to his Wakan Tanka in exchange for an answer to a prayer. Usually the prayer is for mercy, and so it is understandably of deep religious significance. The reverent, consoled figure is in a relaxed falling position showing the end of a sacred ceremony. The thongs by which he hung, suspended from horizontal pole beams, are still attached to his hands. The figure as an entity of spatio-temporal religious meaning, created by the peaceful rhythmic atmosphere of religious yellow in varied diagonal tonal patterns, is a visual symbolism of reverence and peace likened to the mental and spiritual attitude of the praying Indian ending his ritual ceremony.
25 ¼" x 19 ½"
The dancer in an illusionary bubble with spatial aspects is a personal concept of functional space as an active aesthetic element. The agile dancer in a temporal turning position gains momentum and becomes the focal point of all movements in the composition, visually tempering the mode of the dance with the tempo sensated by visual impression. The extended arms of the dancer portray the eagle in flight, with head down to search for prey and with mouth open to scream. The semblance continues into other movements: The legs are obliquely spread out like the maneuvering posture of an eagle in flight.
23" x 19 ½"
In order to understand the topic of the painting, it is necessary to give a short background of the dance. The Sioux Buffalo Dance was a lengthy dance. It had 30 ceremonies and it required 30 days to complete the dance. This was one of the dances which united the bands of the Sioux tribe. Each summer they would come together to hold this medicine men's dance. They used the "circle" for unity: They danced, camped, ate and sat in council in a circle. The Sioux tribe consisted of seven bands, each band slightly different from the others in mannerisms, actions and speech.
These annual meetings were held to keep these major sacred dances the same and to strengthen the unity of the whole Sioux tribe. The straight line construction is a personal concept of expression to gain individuality. The technique derives from the old quill and beadwork and from an old Indian belief that a straight line symbolizes unrelenting truth of righteousness. In quill and beadwork design, only straight horizontal and vertical lines are employed. This technique tends to emphasize the diagonal lines.
The ideational quality of exact representation of the Indian is stressed to reflect the true identity of man as an intellectual being. A refined conception of man's perceptive qualities is conducive to intellectual insight and the abstraction of true realism, realism meaning beauty in the "ugly."
This painting is traditional in technique but original in composition. The introduction of a painted background is a trend away from the convention of two-dimensional Indian painting. The triangular patterns denote the three-point design of the Sioux symbols. One point stands for Earth, one for the sky and one represents the four cardinal points.
The meticulous detail work is observational in purpose: The painting may be seen from a distance for a general impression or it may be observed closely for the study of its parts.
The idea of the painting is to relate foreground with background in composition as well as in meaning of cosmic expression. The rhythmic and orderly patterns in color are expressive of the Indians' poetic and religious concepts of nature. Close harmony with nature is emphasized by formal abstraction as delineated by the solidity of man as he is likened to the solid forms of nature. A ritual yellow is used for the background space. The painting also expresses the time and space concepts of the dance, with its rhythmic relationship by patterns of the third-dimensional movement in space. The detail includes two-dimension as well as three-dimension with contrasts of light and dark areas. So in time each part of the dancer's dress would sway out and away from the body in space. The body movement adds to the rhythmic play of his dress during the ceremonial dance.
The dancer is a medicine man warrior, as shown by his warrior breeches with horizontal stripes. The branches relate nature and animal. Sage is used to wipe perspiration from the face. A wavy line on the arms shows mysticism and the blue line symbolizes peace. The buffalo head and skin symbolize the identity of the medicine man with his totem. The prayer sticks falling from his hand show the completion of the dance.
17 ¾" x 20 ½"
This horse is raising his hooves high in time with the beat of the drum as he participates in the "Horse Dance." Horses did actually seem to dance as they circled without riders or any guidance in this dance. The title of the painting is the Dakota word for horse. A literal translation would be "dog god." Before the horse came, the dog was the only domestic animal. The horse was so much larger than the dog that he was almost godlike in comparison.
15" x 20 ½"
The mythical bird is a messenger which appears during Sioux ceremonies. The bird traveled from east to west symbolizing the journey from sunrise to sunset and from life to death. Utilizing primary colors, the "circle" represents the "hoop of the earth" - the "tree of life." Traditionally, this would have been constructed of sticks or twigs and reference made to the four cardinal points. The image of the bird utilizes aesthetic lines to provide balance to the painting.
Sioux Seed Player
14" x 20"
Sioux Elk Game
18" x 23 ¼"
This is an excellent example of Howe's fully developed "studio style." Howe sold the painting to Herbert Calhoun, superintendent of the Pierre Indian School in Pierre, South Dakota. Howe was on his way home to the Crow Creek Reservation after graduating from the Santa Fe Indian School.
9 ¾" x 11 ½"
This painting has a mobile appearance. Taking from the Sioux skin-painting technique in the use of the plain background of space, the figure dancer is positioned in dark space to effect a feeling of isolated movement in space. The dark background accentuates, by the contrasts of light and dark, the movement of triangular patterns that objectify the dancing figure.
He is a warrior in battle dress going through his combat movements in rhythm with the dance drum. The linear horizontal stress of patterns gives the illusion of a mobile, fluid in movement and plasticity, suspended in mid-air. The extended parts of his paraphernalia represented time and space of the dance. The subject matter is a dancer with all the parts necessary for the figure, though it appears more or less an abstraction it is a complete figure in action. The figure was objectified through aesthetic points. The procedural method of Sioux art tradition composing with aesthetic points to objectify ideas, design and forms was used here for the painting. There is a tradition in Sioux art where the artist commits to memory aesthetic points in a space. These are terminal points of objectifying lines or design lines in an abstraction. The points were essential, not only for the beauty of lines, but also for objectification, so the points have multiple purposes in a composition. The sense of totality in expression and the dimensional aspects can be attributed to the use of aesthetic points.