Mitchell Museum
of the American Indian

3001 Central Street
Evanston, IL 60201
847.475.1030

 

Woody Crumbo (Potawatomi)


Woodrow "Woody" Crumbo (January 21, 1912 – April 4, 1989) was an American Indian artist, flute player, dancer , prospector and humanitarian. A member of the Potawatomi tribe, he was born near Lexington, Oklahoma, on his Potawatomi mother’s reservation allotment.

Crumbo moved to Kansas as a child after the death of his father in 1916. Orphaned in 1919, he spent the rest of his childhood living with various American Indian families around Sand Springs Oklahoma. Being orphaned, his education was stopped for 10 years. When Crumbo was 17, he began studying art at the Chilocco Indian School. He earned a scholarship to the Wichita American Indian Institute, graduating as valedictorian and continued his studies at Wichita University and the University of Oklahoma.


While studying art, Crumbo supported himself as a Native American dancer, touring reservations across the United States in the early 1930s, disseminating and collecting traditional dances. His art career was cemented when his teacher from the Chilocco Indian School sold a number of his paintings to the San Francisco Museum of Art. Subsequently, Crumbo joined the Bacone College in Muskogee as Director of Art from 1938-1941. 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 their 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 Philbrook’s sponsorship of an Indian art show. In 1976, as State Chairman of the Oklahoma Indian Bicentennial Commission, he persuaded the Gilcrease Institute to have an Oklahoma Indian Bicentennial Art Show. He later served as Assistant Director of the El Paso, Texas Museum of Art from 1960-1967 and briefly as Director in 1968, before leaving to work independently and explore humanitarian efforts.

In 1974, he and his wife moved to Okumulgee, Oklahoma, where he continued his art and humanitarian activities. He assisted the Potawatomi in building their cultural heritage center near Shawnee. 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. A 1978 inductee into the Oklahoma Hall of Fame, Crumbo became an Ambassador of Good Will for the State of Oklahoma in 1982.

Both Queen Elizabeth of England and the Museum of Modern Art, New York City, own complete numbered sets of Crumbo's etchings and silk screens. Presidents of the United States and political leaders of other nations have purchased his art. The art of Woody Crumbo communicates the spirit of the American Indian in harmony with nature and all men. Crumbo was also a novelist, musician and poet. He died in 1989.

Of his career, he wrote: "Half of my life passed in striving to complete the pictorial record of Indian history, religion, rituals, customs, way of life, and philosophies . . . a graphic record that a million words could not begin to tell."

 

 

 


 

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