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Oscar Howe Art Show at USD Includes Rare Letters by the Native American Artist

Image Oscar Howe Wakan Tanka Oscar Howe's "Calling on Wakan Tanka," 1962 © Howe Family

An exhibition on display at the University of South Dakota marking what would be Oscar Howe’s 100th birthday includes rare correspondence by him, two of his sculptures and original paintings he created, including a newly acquired piece.

“Oscar Howe: A Centennial Celebration” is open daily until Oct. 16 at the John Day Gallery in the Warren Lee Center for Fine Arts at USD, where Howe taught from 1957 until 1980. The exhibit reception will be 4-6 p.m. Friday, Oct. 2.

It features:

  • Forty-seven Oscar Howe paintings, 30 of them owned by USD and 17 on loan from the Howe family. The paintings on display all were created during his time teaching at USD. One piece featured in the exhibition, "Calling on Wakan Tanka," the first painting USD purchased from Howe, has now recently returned from touring with the exhibition "The Plains Indians: Artist of Earth and Sky," which went to Paris, New York and Kansas City, Missouri.
  • Two Howe sculptures, a wood carving and another from South Dakota alabaster. Howe is mostly known for his paintings, and many people don’t know about his sculptural work.
  • Several pieces of correspondence on loan from the Library Archives and Special Collections that show Howe's role in changing Native American art standards. Howe entered a piece in the 1958 National Indian Painting Competition at the Philbrook Museum of Art, but it was rejected as not being a “traditional Indian painting.” That letter is part of the USD exhibit as is Howe’s letter of protest, a letter from the exhibit's juror in response and a letter from the Philbrook’s director. Howe’s protest letter is well known, but the other letters are not often cited and paint a larger picture to the story and change the context of Howe’s letter, which ultimately led the museum to change the rules.

"Even though the University Art Galleries at USD has two exhibitions of Howe’s work every year in the Oscar Howe Gallery in Old Main, this exhibition is truly one-of-a-kind. Moving the centennial show into our main gallery, the John Day Gallery, has allowed us to show more of his works at once, which showcases how active he was as an artist," said Michelle St. Vrain, interim director of University Art Galleries.


Founded in 1862 and the first university in the Dakotas, the University of South Dakota is the only public liberal arts university in the state, with 202 undergraduate and 78 graduate programs in the College of Arts & Sciences, School of Education, Knudson School of Law, Sanford School of Medicine, School of Health Sciences, Beacom School of Business and College of Fine Arts. With an enrollment of nearly 10,000 students and more than 400 faculty, USD has a 16:1 student/faculty ratio, and it ranks among the best in academics and affordability. USD’s 18 athletic programs compete at the NCAA Division I level.

This material is available in an alternate format upon request. Please contact University Relations at 605-677-5759. If you are a person with a disability and need a special accommodation to fully participate in any university activity or event, please contact Disability Services at 605-677-6389 as soon as possible, but no later than 48 hours before the event, so that appropriate arrangements may be made.


Hanna DeLange
USD News