A Yanktonai of the Dakota Nation, Oscar Howe was born on Crow Creek Reservation. As a boy, Oscar spent hours playing in plum-filled creek thickets and listening at night to the campfire stories told by the older men of the tribe. This is where he first developed inspiration to draw pictures of the stories he heard.
His talent was recognized at a young age. He attended the Santa Fe Indian School art program in the 1930's. Howe painted in casein and tempura and is now best known for his use of bright colors, dynamic motion, and pristine lines.
"In art, I have realized a part of a dream - to present a true image of the Dakota Indian as I understood him and his culture. In my life, I have known through experience, hunger, poverty, poor health, half blindness, slum life, racial prejudice, war, 1930's depression, life under bureaucratic rule, and the stupidity of people. I don't think the aforementioned reversals touched my art. My determination for Indian art expression usually overshadows those times of trial and unavoidable circumstance. I am not bitterly hardened by them, nor did I shut them out of my mind. I understand realism from life's experiences. Through it all, I drew and painted the Indian."
Howe's art career spanned decades and included acquiring fine art degrees, many honors for his paintings from around the world, and teaching at Mitchell's Dakota Wesleyan University, the University of Oklahoma and for more than 25 years at the University of South Dakota. His distinctive style challenged the concepts of Indian art, paving the way for contemporary Native American art and artists.