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You're. You're. This programme was produced by our national educational radio under a grant from the National Home Library Foundation and was compiled through the facilities of the radio at the University of South Dakota. This is a story of ruffled feathers. The Lakota Sioux in transition. You're the fool. This is another program in a series about the Dakota Indian in South Dakota devoted to the elements of Indian art this program is conversations with an Indian artist. The University of South Dakota is fortunate in that one of the foremost Dakota artists Oscar Howe is a faculty member of the College of
Fine Arts. Mr. Holloway full blood Dakota was born and raised on a South Dakota Indian reservation and has for some years been the state's artist laureate in his works which are in high demand around the nation for both exhibits and purchase. He attempts to retain that which is Indian in combination with his own individual style. His background is quite extensive and his interest in art began at quite a young age. At the age of perhaps four or five I begin making lines I didn't know anything about odd but I knew that I created something. And it was fascinating to me. It seemed on magic that I could make lines that are beautiful to me but only to me and they were abstract nonobjective thing they didn't represent anything at all. And my father and mother couldn't see anything in it couldn't read into it so
they decided that I should not do anything like this you know. And my father I remember said to give this idea that even representation of artists can't make a living. And here I am trying to make something. Perhaps it is nothing. So I was discouraged this way. That didn't stop me but I still went outside even to do that but I found charcoal I knew or charcoal blood came from stone and gold and it's been pretty messy and I went outside then leveled off a piece of ground and did these lines. Wow. After I did my lines in a field satisfied and go play with other kids just like any other child you know at the age of six
I came into contact with other students that you know going to school in grade school and I noticed that they were all quite objective and and representational. So I decided if that is the way to do this I must try that too. So I began doing representational things but is it's always been lean year for the line. I remember in contests without any art education and every year I would win the contest. No one knew why I didn't either. I would ask the teachers but they didn't tell me anything about why I won the contest. So it is years before I found out why my painting happened to be better are aware given at least given that and
I found out that my work was unusual because it is full of lines while the others were quite representational and did quite a bit of realistic work and in black and white and showed much more form while my work with only a couple of lines. But it was different so I guess that is a reason for getting all of you winning. With his grade school background in art which showed a trend toward something different yet containing elements of the traditional culture Mr. Howe was about to launch upon a career that has been his life's work. After I finished the school started looking around for further to at least get to get my art started in some way some formal training.
And I kept away from other artists and you know I'm learning about habits and I heard about this set up at this end of Feynman school in New Mexico. So I wrote to them and they would back and they would take me provided I would. If I showed any talent so I went down there and there what they did. Was like this. They took 500 students and worked them for six weeks and screening them for talent discipline and that then in six weeks they selected 15 and I was lucky enough to be one of the 50. And then that's the training that started in high school. But I didn't have my school yet. So
that's where I started my education in high school. And while the art training accolade wasn't too much training and more discipline I was bored. To teachers. While there one exceptional teacher in there was Mrs. Dorothy Dunn creamer. She's a graduate of Gadara Institute and she had gone to Santa Fe New School. And been in a southwest with the idea of helping the Indians are. But no one believed him there so he would have two years without pay at Santa Fe Indian school to prove to them that Indian art could be taught and advanced
and training the artistes for that kindness. So I came along with this idea of being an Indian artist. So that school started with the idea that every artist will be an individual and they did it this way. Quite interesting. You were given the finest materials to work with in the medium of watercolor. Pick one color you were not taught in the theory film color nor any theories on anything. No shortcuts in drawing. But they want to see what you would do a knife you select
50 odd at 500. You had talent to work with. You didn't have to do anything. And they would begin whatever you would you just give them a direction and they would stop. And that's what they did. They tell everyone to keep to their own tribal art. My case it is so in. With Mr. Houser early training to help him he decided that he wanted to keep his art forms compatible to the traditional Dakota art forms in order to understand Indian art one must first have some concept of the relationship between the art form expression and the Indian culture which is so close to nature. I did research and learned quite a bit already from my grandmother the whole culture and I thought well preserved perhaps to preserve something fine from that culture because I heard that
Indian language is quite different from the English. Most poetic. And closer to nature. And I heard it all in songs as well as my voice in the formal language. Now the Indian has lost his formal language but I heard all this from my grandmother who had lived in a teepee we have been here when the buffalo are still here and there but it was a wonderful live culture. And I heard this from my grandmother but I would look for this in the books and I never found anything that was close to it. If you have to be poetic. You take the case of a case in point here would be a high walk or not to some people.
That's fascinating but it isn't actually. It's not beautiful. It has too many cultures too meaning everything thrown into one and say it is Indian and it's beautiful. That's not true culture true culture is much more beautiful than that and I hope perhaps some day an Indian would be poor take and interpret translate the Indian language correctly. To give you another example of not caring that called her too well is the language of the interpreters. Your translations like rain in the face beneath the earth slaying every day
usage and term they don't mean anything but in the in the languages it's where they can add much more realism and much so close to nature. See the end then when he speaks it's just like speaking it's like nature or the elements speaking. He's so close to it and lives in it. He depended on nature so much that he is part of it. So in my work I try to do that too. You'll see in my backgrounds and foregrounds always related meaning the subject matter lives right in the nature and nature is part of it. Just as the Indian culture has evolved and passed through several stages of development so has Indian art there is a marked difference between the art of the early Dakota in the wooded areas of Minnesota and the art of the Dakota when he reached the plains of South Dakota. There are also differences between the composition utilizing the traditional symbols and the types of representation undertaken by their traditional and the modern Indian artist.
The difference here between you and I and the Modern would be has to do with symbolism. Abstract to the end there was no abstract art. This may sound like Picasso but it is true and that is in the last generation and about this generation in the last generation and then still know its art because he had been schooled in prayer as a little child. He grew up with all of them both and understood himself to the end then that it was an abstract at all he understood every bit of it. But to the men in their courses told the non-executive and play. In their own school. Dealin aren't abstractions to call them abstractions that I remember everything you know.
Those were kept away from representational not in the modern They are combined. And when you see this in a painting that is called Modern India and that's a school that started. But it didn't stunt with having to have some backing from the backers for this art movement where the wealthy from New York and from the West Coast and I remember when I said in a studio at Santa in school they flocked in there a thousand at a time a thousand and they came. Yet at that time in South Dakota people were running for California and wouldn't get a red penny for any art. In fact gardening and that's how I came back into South Dakota at that time when nobody cared. And I
had to struggle and struggle along and there I made anything with it. But to get to this modern. It's not enough that in an art course it's a good school known and established and I'm glad. That that type of work is started for individuals to be developed within the school and that type of school with its paintings is traveling all over the country. This very minute giving the idea of the whole world that this is modern in art that's good or bad I don't know. But museums are the ones that cause a drin of course they would take that time and say if an artist did this type of work and he is and he can come and exhibit
in that gallery saying well that's alright as long as he did that. See this do as good or bad I don't know. Well there are certain individuals develop from this modern Indian and this may sound conceited but I. Have developed into an individualistic work in a certain direction at least with the use of certain symbols. To be more truthful in the expression and to evolve something from the culture and use it in the expression now and one is a straight line a straight line in the SU in pictograph writing means truth or righteousness.
So I'm using that as part of my technique. Also in a sign language a straight gesture is use for the true righteousness. And also from the geometric trend of the Sioux Indian after he came onto the plane. Do you think in those woodland you know him and his impression at that time was more. Circular. So yes flowers dream of circular movement. But after you came on to the plane his impression of the open spaces more geometric and geometric meaning it's more vertical and horizontal. You'll see that in all his designs. So I'm using that geometric trend. Except that mine are more
diagonal and more pleasing as I have mentioned before. To that I use this to Indian language. It's beautiful. Perhaps an English train myself I imagine I could be poetic in that verbal but I'm not after that I have to visual and documenting. It's not just in the ethnic documentation but an artistic thing beautiful. My own idea of beautiful in language to translate these shapes and forms from their culture. So that's the symbolic trend now and individualistic. Now you may wonder. I don't know. Maybe that's me myself and not
Indian. I don't know it may be too individualistic. I have had comments on my letter to that effect too. No it's not an Indian It's it's me. The expression of an artform was not an individualistic action in the old culture. The artist went through a rather elaborate ceremony directed by a storyteller and performed under the watchful eye of a committee of critics. Who artists. Knew his subject matter of course he's held to certain conventions and and traditions and symbols and so on and he must keep to them are the lies he cannot represent a group as an artist. He must reflect their ideas in technique as well as the whole art. That's why he is an artist. He's held to these
conventions and traditions so that there'd be absolute understanding between the artists and he must communicate properly in a certain direct way. So it had to be a ceremony. Now before the ceremony began of course he knew his subject matter and he. Before the ceremony starts for three days he would watch or study his area. In which he is to paint for three days he would pick out aesthetic points beauty spots. But these beauty spots represented. If they're connected generally the line would objectify some thing of course it would be his subject matter you know. And he would do this line one line at a time and tell the whole thing's completed so that when he starts in the ceremonial painting he's much
more direct. It had to be a very simple way of drawing as well as the use of colors. And any time the thing would stop because eventually it would stop in a way that is a beginning. In the ceremony there is a speaker who is to relate some event important event to be recorded and skin documented. And that speaker and he started speaking to our this begins with a sketch and any time the speaker would stop or there's also another group a selection of witnesses is made before the ceremony also. And in the selection of the witnesses that to be you have to know in Dinard all the symbols
carloads traditional meanings and so on so they can criticize his movements. So it's not just the curious spectators. They're much more than that. It's called painting of the truth and the need to be witnessed by competent spectators or witnesses. So when a speaker is talking very badly done visually the artist is objectifying this event. Anytime the speaker stumps of course the artist stamps do but the artist always stamps on an aesthetic point because he's thought this out three days. I don't know the Indian has always used to read the Reavers ceremonial things and his concentration is read before he is to make a
painting or before he becomes a medicine man. His concentration is always three days AND three nights. In the old culture every member of the tribe was ingrained with the knowledge of the art forms and was able to judge the correctness of its composition. This is a trait that has been lost among the younger generations of the Dakota in his ceremonial painting the painting of the eyes witnessed. And that if it's executed properly then it's a thing of beauty. Supposedly not days we look at skin painting and who knows when it is beautiful artistic or if it's real at all. Your body looks to the skin painting and don't know nothing about it. I
had an older Indian without being artistic and looked at it and tell you it is a good skin thinking. Now if you have you know anything about aesthetics. Of course this knowingness that exceed the required training of course of your mind and knowing all about in the end and that's the Earth as a big area of study anyway. But anyway so you knew things then you could analyze a skin painting a one line at a time. And take him off this area. You keep doing that. On Teles one line left that line is supposed to be the beautiful beginning and beginning a line of the whole ceremony.
Mr Howe then went on to explain how he has adopted two of the older patterns and made his works compatible with established traditions. I myself don't want to be sitting in front of an empty space. I immediately look for points and connect them so it doesn't matter to me between two points if it's connected with a straight line. Geometrical aesthetic are plastic doesn't matter to me as long as they are connected. But because I'm a master. An abstracted composition on lines rather than objectifying stamped rectified then becomes consciously of course. And whatever I know it's supposed to come out subconscious laneway and come out before and with all these lines intersecting in meeting and so
on and thereby come automatically into patterns and patterns into shapes and shapes into recognizable things but it's always been because I dream of doing this and that's all I ever wanted to do to express myself through this. Speaking from Mr Howard's point of view he is concerned primarily with drawings paintings and other such art forms. However when one considers Indian art the area of crafts is also usually included. Most authorities include grass as a part of art expression because in the old culture at least each design had a specific meaning. I remember in the making part flesh bags meaning that actually a steadfast buffalo skin and hair I had.
And I have some young girl get in there and stretch it out to stake that out and drying it on and have this young girl our young boy. Drawing diagram boxes on their sides tops and so on and then knowing the signs tops and so on. These would be decorated already. There are it works something like fresco because whatever is put on top of the rawhide would penetrate you know as it dries so it be solid that color would go in sink right in and it doesn't bleed spread doing this. That's quite artistic to do that. So the meaning of course whoever does the decorative work to them they has all the meaning in it. Because if somebody's telling somebody just exactly what to do it
but their reason for being good at hand in their long history you know dealing with art and so on. Just as all the areas that are being explored in the series the area of Dakota art is quite extensive and quite complex. I hope that through Mr Howe's presentation you've been able to understand a little better the area of Indian art. The primary contributor to this program was Oscar house South Dakota artist laureate and faculty member of the College of Fine Arts at the University of South Dakota. With. The the. Wrong with ruffled feathers. The Dakotas who in transition was produced through the facilities of the US be ready o at the University of South Dakota. A grant from the National Home Library
Foundation has made possible the production of this program for national educational radio. This is the national educational radio network.
Ruffled feathers: The Dakota Sioux
Elements of Sioux art
Producing Organization
University of South Dakota
Contributing Organization
University of Maryland (College Park, Maryland)
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Episode Description
This program explores elements of Sioux art. Nationally noted Indian artist Oscar Howe and other midwestern Indian artists discuss the evolution of Indian art.
Series Description
A documentary series about the history, culture and contemporary problems of the Sioux, a Native American tribe.
Fine Arts
Race and Ethnicity
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Interviewee: Howe, Oscar, 1915-1983
Producing Organization: University of South Dakota
AAPB Contributor Holdings
University of Maryland
Identifier: 67-10-4 (National Association of Educational Broadcasters)
Format: 1/4 inch audio tape
Duration: 00:29:00
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Chicago: “Ruffled feathers: The Dakota Sioux; Elements of Sioux art,” 1967-02-28, University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed July 21, 2024,
MLA: “Ruffled feathers: The Dakota Sioux; Elements of Sioux art.” 1967-02-28. University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. July 21, 2024. <>.
APA: Ruffled feathers: The Dakota Sioux; Elements of Sioux art. Boston, MA: University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from