The following letter was written on this day in 1958 and can be found in the book, Letters of Note: Art—reprinted by kind permission of the Oscar Howe Family. If you’re unaware of Oscar Howe’s art, please seek it out. Every piece is stunning. To see photos of Howe at work, go here.
Oscar Howe was born in 1915 on the Crow Creek Indian Reservation in South Dakota, and was a direct descendant of Yankton Sioux Chiefs. As a child he attended Pierre Indian School, then studied art under Dorothy Dunn at Santa Fe Indian School, eventually obtaining a Master of Fine Arts at the University of Oklahoma—all while building a solid reputation for his modernist depictions of Native American life. In 1958, he submitted one of his abstract works, Umine Wacipi (War and Peace Dance), for an annual exhibition of Indian art at the Philbrook Art Centre in Tulsa, Oklahoma, only for it to be rejected for supposedly not being a “traditional Indian painting.” Howe responded emphatically with a letter that eventually led to change and acceptance both at the institution and in the wider art community; it was written to Jeanne Snodgrass, the museum’s curator of Native American art.