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Indepth Arts News:

"Seeing What the Heart Knows: The Art of Howard Terpning"
2001-04-21 until 2001-05-20
Eiteljorg Museum of American and Western Art
Indianapolis, IN, USA

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 Enterprises.

At a deeper level, however, Terpning's visit is a once-in-a-lifetime chance for people to stand in the presence of greatness.

The storyteller
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 Excellence.

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

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