Woody Crumbo, a
Potowatomi Indian from Oklahoma, became a well-known artist of Native
American subjects. Of his career, he wrote: "Half of my life passed in
striving to complete the pictorial record of Indian history, religion,
rituals, customs, way of life, and philosophies . . . a graphic record
that a million words could not begin to tell." (Snodgrass 42).
Crumbo was born in 1912 on his mother's reservation allotment near
Lexington, Oklahoma. Woody Crumbo's father, Alex, was a horse trader who
died when the youngster was just four. The family moved to the Potawatomi
lands in Kansas where Crumbo attended grade school. When he was seven his
mother died. Being orphaned, his education was stopped for ten years when
he was in the third grade, and he moved in with a Creek Indian family near
Sand Springs, Oklahoma. For the next 10 years, Crumbo lived with many
different Indian families in the area.
At age 17, he resumed his education when he enrolled in the eighth grade
at the Chilocoo Indian School and began the study of art, anthropology,
and history. There he met and became friends with a group of Kiowa youths,
and during summers and school breaks Crumbo lived with them near Anadarko.
The boys were taught and influenced by Susie Peters, who was the major
figure in encouraging traditional art style among Oklahoma Indians.
It was during this time that Woody Crumbo was allowed to take up the
tradition of making and playing the ceremonial cedar wood flute of the
Kiowas. This distinction came as a result of his musical ability and
intense interest in Indian culture and heritage. He passed the tradition
back to a young Kiowa man through the appropriate ceremony in 1976.
At the age of 19, Crumbo was given a scholarship to attend the American
Indian Institute in Wichita, Kansas, a Presbyterian school for young
Indians with exceptional skills. He graduated three years later,
valedictorian of his class. Crumbo's education continued when he attended
Wichita University from 1933 to 1936 and studied mural technique with Olaf
Nordmark, watercolor with Clayton Henri Staples, and painting and drawing
with Oscar Brousse Jacobson.
During those years, Crumbo earned his living as an Indian dancer, and his
reputation for excellence quickly spread. In 1933, through a government
sponsored program, he led a group of 13 dancers on a tour of many Indian
reservations in the nation. From each tribe he learned traditions and
dances, and in turn, shared what he knew with them. Dozens of traditional
songs and dances were perpetuated and disseminated through his efforts.
Crumbo's musical talents on the flute were likewise spotlighted through
appearances with the Wichita Symphony.
Crumbo became a summer teacher for youth programs while he studied at
Wichita. His instruction of Indian arts and crafts took him to camps and
programs in Colorado where he taught Boy Scouts, inspiring many young boys
to become interested in American Indian culture. His work with Boy Scouts
continued through the years.
Crumbo's skill as an artist was acknowledged by Susie Peters in 1932 when
she sold 22 of his paintings to the San Francisco Museum of Art, where
they remain as part of their permanent collection. However, it was his
Kiowa friends who had first encouraged him: thus, as some of them had
done, Crumbo enrolled at the University of Oklahoma in 1936. There he
studied with Oscar Jacobson for two years. He also taught the first
classes in jewelry making offered at the University, specializing in
silversmithing. He invented and held the patents on jewelry making tools.
In 1938 Crumbo accepted the offer to become Director of Art at Bacone
College, a position held for three years. Bacone was a four year liberal
arts college sponsored by the American Baptist Church in Muskogee,
Oklahoma. Students who studied with him include Willard Stone and C. Terry
Saul. Other renowned Indian artists such as Blackbear Bosin were
influenced by Crumbo even though they did not attend Bacone. While at the
college, Crumbo designed and constructed the stained glass window in the
Rose Chapel. It is possibly the only Indian-created and Indian religion
motif stained glass window in the world. The smaller windows in the Chapel
were also made by him.
During the summer months from 1939 to 1941, Crumbo and a few other Indian
artists were commissioned by the U.S. Department of Interior to study
mural painting with Olaf Normandy and to paint murals in the Interior
Department building in Washington, D.C. His works there are the Buffalo
Hunt, Peyote Bird and Symbols, Flute Player, Wild Horses, and two others.
In 1943 he was commissioned to paint the mural Rainbow Trail in the Post
Office in Nowata, Oklahoma.
In 1941, Crumbo moved to Wichita to work for Cessna Aircraft, and in 1942
moved to Tulsa, where he worked at Douglas Aircraft for the duration of
World War II. It was in 1941 that he married his Creek Indian wife,
Lillian Faye Hogue; they were the parents of two children, Minisa and
Woody Max, both of whom carry on the artistic traditions of the family.
In 1945, Crumbo's contributions and talents were acknowledged when he was
selected for the annual Julius Rosenwald Fellowship, the only American
Indian ever to receive the award. Also, from 1945 to mid-1948, he was
employed by the Thomas Gilcrease Institute in Tulsa to assemble an
American Indian art collection. Most of the Indian art collection
presently there was selected by Crumbo. Mr. Gilcrease purchased many of
Crumbo's paintings which remain in the collection.
When the Philbrook Art Museum in Tulsa was opened in 1939, the first
Indian painting that it received was Woody Crumbo's "Deer and Birds".
Approximately 10 years later, Crumbo was instrumental in getting Philbrook
to sponsor an Indian art show. It became, and remains the most important
and best-known Indian art show in the world. In 1976, as State Chairman of
the Oklahoma Indian Bicentennial Commission, he persuaded the Gilcrease
Institute to have an Oklahoma Indian Bicentennial Art Show.
In 1948 Crumbo and his family moved to Taos, New Mexico, which became
their home during most of the following 14 years. He worked as a
free-lance artist utilizing many different mediums. Crumbo had been, and
continued, painting with oils; his famous painting, "Spotted Wolf's Last
Request" is an oil completed in the mid-1950's. He was inspired to
commemorate the American Indians who participated in the U.S. Armed
Services. For his subject, he used the request of PFC Clarence Spotted
Wolf, a Sioux Indian, who wanted to be honored with a parade by his people
should he be killed in action during World War II. Shortly after he made
his request, Spotted Wolf died defending his country.
Crumbo's tribute, a documentary about Indian loyalty for their national
soil, is owned by the Boy Scouts of America and hangs in their Koshare
Indian Museum, La Junta, Colorado.
Crumbo had studied etching techniques with Nordmark in 1939, and had
developed unique skill in silk screening techniques. By means of
printmaking, he wanted to make American Indian art accessible to more than
just a few collectors, creating greater interest in American Indian art by
making original works available at reasonable prices. His etchings show a
detail and beauty that reflect unusual self-discipline and ability, and
his silk screens are often created through the utilization of as many as
Crumbo won awards for the quality and beauty of his silk screens, which
are considered to be of the highest quality. His most widely known theme
is the Spirit Horse; his various renditions of Spirit Horse on silk screen
are perhaps the most wide-spread Indian paintings in the world, and have
been responsible for creating interest in American Indian culture among
many non-Indian people.
In 1960, Woody Crumbo was named Assistant Director of the El Paso, Texas,
Museum of Art and in 1968, was appointed Director, a position he held
until 1974. While in El Paso, he heard of the plight of a group of Ysleta
Pueblo Indians of New Mexico who had years earlier moved to El Paso. They
had lost both their identity as Indians and their tribal status. Crumbo
obtained legal assistance and was responsible for the group regaining
their tribal status, helping build a community center and obtaining health
care. Crumbo worked as diligently on other projects for the improvement of
Indian life and culture.
In 1974, he and his wife moved to Okumulgee, Oklahoma, where he continued
his art and humanitarian activities. He assisted the Potawatomies in
building their cultural heritage center near Shawnee.
Woody Crumbo's paintings are in numerous museums, galleries and private
collections including the University of Oklahoma; The Minneapolis
Institute of Arts; Museum of Northern Arizona; Indian Arts and Crafts
Board of the U.S. Department of Interior; The Metropolitan Museum of Art
in New York City; Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., among many
Both Queen Elizabeth of England and the Museum of Modern Art, New York
City, own complete numbered sets of Crumbo's etchings and silk screens.
Presidents of the United States, and political leaders of other nations
have purchased his art.
The art of Woody Crumbo communicates the spirit of the American Indian in
harmony with nature and all men. Crumbo was also a novelist and poet. He
died in 1989.
Jeanne O Snodgrass, "American Indian Painters"
from the archives of