A Lifetime of Art
The Eiteljorg Museum honors Howard Terpning
with a major retrospective exhibition

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Plains Indian cultures such as the Blackfoot have fascinated Terpning through the years because he is drawn to the horse culture of the nomadic hunting tribes.Though violence was a reality in their lives, Terpning prefers to depict the everyday activities, ceremonies, and reflective moments of his subjects rather than the heat of battle.

Terpning's interest in western history dates back to age 15, when he spent the summer at his cousin's ranch in Durango, CO. He fell in love with the western landscape, did a lot of hiking and fishing, rode on horseback, and camped out by himself in the mountains. From that time on, he was an avid student of the West.

Terpning attended the Chicago Academy of Fine Art and the American Academy of Fine Art, apprenticing with the famous Haddon (Sunny) Sundblom in Chicago. He became a successful and prolific illustrator, doing commercial work for publications such as Time, Good Housekeeping, Newsweek, and Ladies' Home Journal. His 1960s stint as a Marine Corps civilian combat artist in Vietnam resulted in paintings now displayed in the Marine Corps Museum in Washington, DC. He also painted more than 80 movie posters, including those for The Sound of Music and Dr. Zhivago.

Searching for something more artistically satisfying, Terpning began painting portraits, including a portrait of a Sioux Chief for his daughter, Susan. Then, at age 47, Terpning took several months break from his commercial work to complete three paintings. They sold, and he relished the freedom of painting what he chose and discovered that he was happiest when painting his favorite subject, western history. Thus marked the beginning of Terpning's fine-art career and his transition away from commercial work. Moving to Arizona, he established himself as a preeminent fine-art painter, quickly becoming a member of the Cowboy Artists of America (CAA) and National Academy of Western Art (NAWA).

Since then, Terpning has received numerous awards, including two NAWA/Prix de West awards for MOVING DAY ON THE FLATHEAD in 1981 and THE TROPHY in 1996. Both were purchased for the permanent collection of the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City. Last year he received the Autry Museum's John Geraghty Award for his contributions to western art.

Reflecting on his career, Terpning says he hopes his work will give people a greater awareness of and appreciation for the history and people of the American West. "I think that as time goes on and the world keeps spinning, we have a tendency as part of human nature to lose our sense of history," he continues. "Really, without our history, we don't have a future. We can't forget our past. I think that is very important, because our knowledge comes from a sense of history, and we have to know who we were and where we came from in order to go forward. In painting the Plains Indians, I'm telling a part of the story of our American West, certainly a very colorful and dramatic part of our history. It's also a part of our history that we can relate to, and it's not that long ago.

"The Plains Indians were very, very special people in so many ways," he continues. "I've always tried to paint people in an honest light; I have tried not to romanticize them. But I certainly have painted them in a favorable light."

Terpning is quiet-spoken and modest, with a greater inclination to talk about the subjects of his paintings than about his own creative intentions. "I let my paintings do the talking," he says. "The emotion that I feel comes out in the paintings, and I hope they move other people."

What does the future hold for Terpning? "More paintings," he says with a smile. "I look forward to the next painting, and hopefully I can improve. That's certainly what I strive for. I do want to slow down and probably get involved in more special projects and major works. But I have no intention of stopping."

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reprinted by permission  Sowthwest Art Magazine

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