One hundred years ago, one of the country’s most iconic and revered American Indian artists was born. His works are just as beautiful and important now as they ever were, despite a century’s worth of technological, social and political change.
The Oklahoma History Center celebrates the life of the artist in Crumbo Spirit Talk, a new exhibit featuring more than 100 pieces by Woodrow “Woody” Crumbo. The exhibit also showcases several works by his children, Minisa Crumbo Halsey and Woody Max Crumbo, who have carried on their father’s artistic tradition.
Crumbo was born in 1912 on his mother’s reservation allotment near Lexington. Orphaned by the age of 7, he was taken in and raised by a Creek family.
As a teenager, he attended Chilocco Indian Boarding School, during which time he became friends with the Kiowa Five, a prominent group of American Indian artists.
After Chilocco, Crumbo studied at the American Indian Institute in Wichita, as well as Wichita University. His talent as an artist was immediately obvious, but Crumbo excelled in more than one medium. He was a skilled flautist, having learned to play a traditional Kiowa instrument during his time with the tribe members.
Crumbo also was a member of a tour group that performed ceremonial dance. He traveled the U.S. on tours in which he met an array of members from various tribes. The cultural variety Crumbo experienced during those years would be reflected in his later art.
His career spanned nearly 60 years.
During that time, Crumbo worked largely as a painter, although he also was a silversmith and muralist. He created a new process of printmaking using silkscreen, enabling him to fill his pieces with color and detail.
“[Crumbo] was the forefront of the beginning of American Indian art,” said Tara Damron, assistant curator of American Indian collections at the Oklahoma History Center. “He really wanted his art in the public, and to educate non-Indians about the culture and philosophy of American Indians.”
It became Crumbo’s mission to share his art. As his silkscreen business was taking off, he looked for ways to bring American Indian work to a wider audience.
“He made his own etchings and mats,” said Damron. “He built his own boxes, and he would ship them out to these different schools and colleges all over the U.S.”
He deliberately priced his work low, so anyone could afford it, she said. In doing so, he helped make a lasting mark on the world of art.
“His impact is still felt today,” Damron said.