Woodrow "Woody" Crumbo
1912 - 1989
Crumbo was born in 1912 on his mother's reservation allotment near Lexington, Oklahoma. Woody Crumbo's father, Alex, was a horse trader who died when the youngster was just four. The family moved to the Potawatomi lands in Kansas where Crumbo attended grade school. When he was seven his mother died. Being orphaned, his education was stopped for ten years when he was in the third grade, and he moved in with a Creek Indian family near Sand Springs, Oklahoma. For the next 10 years, Crumbo lived with many different Indian families in the area.
At the age of 19, Crumbo was given a scholarship to attend the American Indian Institute in Wichita, Kansas, a Presbyterian school for young Indians with exceptional skills. He graduated three years later, valedictorian of his class. Crumbo's education continued when he attended Wichita University from 1933 to 1936 and studied mural technique with Olaf Nordmark, watercolor with Clayton Henri Staples, and painting and drawing with Oscar Brousse Jacobson. During those years, Crumbo earned his living as an Indian dancer, and his reputation for excellence quickly spread.
In 1938 Crumbo accepted the offer to become Director of Art at Bacone College, a position held for three years. Bacone was a four year liberal arts college sponsored by the American Baptist Church in Muskogee, Oklahoma. Students who studied with him include Willard Stone and C. Terry Saul. Other renowned Indian artists such as Blackbear Bosin were influenced by Crumbo even though they did not attend Bacone. While at the college, Crumbo designed and constructed the stained glass window in the Rose Chapel. It is possibly the only Indian-created and Indian religion motif stained glass window in the world. The smaller windows in the Chapel were also made by him.
In 1945, Crumbo's contributions and talents were acknowledged when he was selected for the annual Julius Rosenwald Fellowship, the only American Indian ever to receive the award. Also, from 1945 to mid-1948, he was employed by the Thomas Gilcrease Institute in Tulsa to assemble an American Indian art collection. Most of the Indian art collection presently there was selected by Crumbo. Mr. Gilcrease purchased many of Crumbo's paintings which remain in the collection. When the Philbrook Art Museum in Tulsa was opened in 1939, the first Indian painting that it received was Woody Crumbo's "Deer and Birds". Approximately 10 years later, Crumbo was instrumental in getting Philbrook to sponsor an Indian art show. It became, and remains the most important and best-known Indian art show in the world. In 1976, as State Chairman of the Oklahoma Indian Bicentennial Commission, he persuaded the Gilcrease Institute to have an Oklahoma Indian Bicentennial Art Show.
In 1948 Crumbo and his family moved to Taos, New Mexico, which became their home during most of the following 14 years. While in Taos, Woody worked with the Taos Pueblo scout troop headed by Eliseo Concho. On a few occassions the Taos Scouts, Eliseo and Woody would make a trip to La Junta and perform in the Koshare Kiva. Woody was the first artist to display at the Koshare Indian Museum on November 13, 1949, at the formal dedication of the building. That same day the Koshare Indian Dancers purchased the "Eagle Dancer" from Woody. The relationship with the Koshares and Buck Burshears grew while Woody lived in Taos and the friendship would last a lifetime.
He worked as a free-lance artist utilizing many different mediums. Crumbo had been painting, and continued to paint, with oils; his famous painting, "Spotted Wolf's Last Request" is an oil completed in the mid-1950's. He was inspired to commemorate the American Indians who participated in the U.S. Armed Services. For his subject, he used the request of PFC Clarence Spotted Wolf, a Sioux Indian, who wanted to be honored with a parade by his people should he be killed in action during World War II. Shortly after he made his request, Spotted Wolf died defending his country.
Crumbo had studied etching techniques with Nordmark in 1939, and had developed unique skill in silk screening techniques. By means of printmaking, he wanted to make American Indian art accessible to more than just a few collectors, creating greater interest in American Indian art by making original works available at reasonable prices. His etchings show a detail and beauty that reflect unusual self-discipline and ability, and his silk screens are often created through the utilization of as many as 16 screens.
In October of 1968, Woody and his family moved to La Junta, Colorado. Since moving from El Paso to La Junta he became the community's most famous artist in residence. But he was much more than that to the Koshare Indians. From the start he attended scout meetings, dance practices and handicraft sessions. He made several trips with the Koshares. Woody's studio was a popular place to visit. He was always gracious with visitors, ready to talk about what he is doing and why. He helped clean and revarnish many of the paintings in the Koshare collection. Woody became an Honorary Member of the Koshare Indian Dancers in 1968 and was elected a Koshare Key Leader in 1970.
Woody Crumbo's paintings are in numerous museums, galleries and private collections including the University of Oklahoma; The Minneapolis Institute of Arts; Museum of Northern Arizona; Indian Arts and Crafts Board of the U.S. Department of Interior; The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City; Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., among many others.
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