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


This article appeared in the April 2001 issue of Southwest Art Magazine.
Reprinted by permission

page 1

TWO YEARS AGO, OFFICIALS FROM THE EITELJORG Museum of American Indians and Western Art in Indianapolis traveled to the desert foothills of Tucson to meet with Howard Terpning at his home. Their mission was to invite the artist to paint a major commission for the museum's permanent collection and accept its third-ever Award for Excellence. Their proposal included an awards ceremony and a retrospective exhibition.

Initially, Terpning agreed to do the commission but rejected the rest of the plan. "I have done two other retrospective shows and really didn't want to approach collectors a third time, and I knew all the work that it entailed," he says. "But through discussions with my wife Marlies over a period of time, she convinced me that it would be a wise thing to do because of my age (73) and all, and she said she would do all of the contacting. With that, I agreed to do the show."

Spirit of the Plains People The result is Terpning's largest- ever retrospective exhibition, comprising 32 major paintings, and the publication of a third coffee-table book on his work, The Spirit of the Plains People, by Greenwich Workshop. The new book focuses on his paintings from 1992 to the present, picking up where his previous book, The Art of Howard Terpning, ended. With text by Don Hedgepeth and an introduction by Elmer Kelton (author of the previous book), it contains about 100 images and will function as an expanded show catalog.

The exhibition will hang only one month-from April 21 through May 20--because Terpning stipulated that the paintings be absent from his collectors for no longer than two months. "We felt people would be more willing to lend them if they didn't have to give them up for a longer period of time," he says. "People were all very agreeable-they seemed pleased. Hopefully, all of those who lent paintings will be at the opening."

Terpning is eager to see the paintings again, and he expects displaying them together will magnify their impact. "It'll be like visiting a lot of old friends, and some newer ones," he says. "I really look forward to it."

Blessing from the Medicine Man  Terpning's new painting for the Eiteljorg collection is a 48-by-56-inch oil titled BLESSING FROM THE MEDICINE MAN, which will be unveiled for the first time at the show's opening. Including research, preliminary sketches, and a half-size drawing, the completed piece required more than three months of concentrated work. As with all of his works, Terpning researched the subject meticulously to ensure that his portrayal would be as historically accurate and honest as possible. BLESSING FROM THE MEDICINE MAN depicts a scene from the Blackfoot nation's Thunder Pipe Ceremony, which takes place in the springtime after the first thunder rumbles in the sky. The Blackfoot, who live in Montana, are people of the northern Plains.

"For the Thunder Pipe Ceremony that I witnessed in the early 1980s, they attached two large teepees together, so you could go from one to the other," Terpning recalls. "Native American spectators witnessing the ceremony stood inside one teepee, and the participants in the ceremony occupied the other. The reason for the ceremony was renewal-to bless all of the people and to hope that everyone would be provided for in the coming summer. They prayed for the protection of all the people."

The all-day ceremony involved prayers, blessings, and the opening of a large, complex thunder pipe bundle containing many sacred objects. Those wanting to be blessed approached the medicine man one by one on their hands and knees. The medicine man held a small container of red paint, probably red earth mixed with animal fat, which he used to daub a streak of red paint on each cheek, forehead, and chin, representing the Four Directions. Terpning was among those receiving the blessing.       continued on next page

In 2001, the Eiteljorg Museum honored Howard with the exhibit
Seeing What the Heart Knows"
 Learn more about our featured artist in Howard Terpning's biography
Howard Terpning is often referred to as the Storyteller of the Native American People
Return to the Gallery Index of
Howard Terpning


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