Ostensibly, Terpning's visit to the Midwest will be to receive the Eiteljorg
Museum Award for Excellence, which recognizes a lifetime of achievement by
an artist. He will be only the third artist to receive this award, after
Wilson Hurley (1991) and Kenneth Riley (1993). The Eiteljorg Museum also
will unveil a brand-new painting by Terpning.
At the same time, the Eiteljorg Museum will open the exhibition Seeing What
the Heart Knows: The Art of Howard Terpning, which runs for only one month,
April 21 through May 20. The exhibition is sponsored by Eiteljorg Museum
Western Art Society Founding Members with additional support from IPALCO
At a deeper level, however, Terpning's visit is a once-in-a-lifetime chance
for people to stand in the presence of greatness.
Terpning has received more accolades than has any Western artist painting
today. He has
won more than 20 gold and silver medals, including five Colt awards and a
Stetson award from
the Cowboy Artists of America. He won the Prix de West award from the
National Academy of Western Art and the first $250,000 Hubbard Art Award for
But nothing means more to this quiet, unassuming man than the respect he has
earned from Native Americans, the subject of his work for the last quarter
of a century.
Plenty of artists have painted Native Americans and scenes of Native
American life. But no other artist has earned the title of storyteller
among the Native peoples of North America. He has be granted this honored
title because of the care he takes to portray his subjects accurately.
Ray Gonyea, curator of Native American art and culture at the Eiteljorg
Museum, explains why accuracy is so important to many Native Americans.
The public has a stereotypical image of Native Americans that they've
derived from Hollywood movies and from artists who didn't care whether they
painted an Iroquois from the East in the dress of a Native American from the
Plains, Gonyea said. In contrast, you can look at any Howard Terpning
painting and see that even down to the smallest details, he accurately
reflects the people and the time represented in the work. This is the way it
ought to be done.
Hallmark of accuracy
Terpning has painted since he was in his early 20s. But it wasn't until he
was nearly 50 that Terpning realized what intrigued him most were Native
Americans. Living in what used to be Apache country, he began studying
historic photographs of American Indians, fascinated by the differences
among tribes. As his respect for them increased, so did his sense of duty to
portray them as they really were.
Terpning has remained true to that duty throughout his career, spending time
researching his subjects and visiting the scenes of historic events. He
keeps a personal collection of Native American artifacts for reference and
uses contemporary Native Americans as models whenever possible.
In every painting - in the faces of the hunter, the storyteller, the
medicine man, the widowed woman - Terpning's respect for the human beings
who are Native Americans is lovingly detailed. And his compassion for the
cultures that were nearly obliterated comes through subtly, without
sentimentality, but with strength.
A rare treat
Seeing What the Heart Knows: The Art of Howard Terpning is an exhibition of
30 works, nearly all of which are held in private collections across the
country, that the artist personally selected for display at the Eiteljorg
Museum. It is only the second one-man show Terpning has agreed to. (The
other was at the Gilcrease Museum in Tulsa, Okla., in 1985.)
Telling of Legends by Howard Terpning
Oil on canvas 1989
32 x 52
Copyright 1989 Howard Terpning,
copyright 1989 The Greenwich Workshop, Inc