Oscar Howe is arguably one of the most influential Native American artists to come out of South Dakota. His works have been published around the world, and he has had exhibits around the country and throughout Europe. All of this and more before he even graduated from High School. He then went on to create some of the most contemporary and even cubistic art of his era. And yet, while he was forging ahead to newfound artistic territories he still kept many traditional values and symbols in his works. He has done so much for the community in and around South Dakota it is amazing that he is not better known throughout the art community. All of this I will discuss later, but first, here is how it all started.
Oscar Howe was born on May 13th, 1915 to George Howe and Ella Not Afraid of Bear on a small Indian reservation in South Dakota. He was born into poverty and was frequented quite often by illness and frustration. He attended The Pierre Indian School, which was extremely strict with its students. The students were forced to wear uniforms and any misconduct was dealt with quickly and severely. One of the first rules that were told to the student is that they were forbidden to speak in their native tongue. Oscar, at the time, could only speak Sioux, so he quickly became familiar with the corrective physical punishments that were generously handed out. Some of these punishments included being shoved against hot radiators and being whipped with a rubber hose. While attending this school Oscar Howe developed a serious but unidentifiable skin condition. The disease was so disfiguring that Oscar Howe was isolated to the extent that even his own brothers would avoid him. Along with the skin disease he also developed a case of trachoma. Trachoma is a painful eye disease that if not treated can lead to blindness. At the age of ten Oscar Howe had to deal with this and the isolation and the normal troubles of growing up.