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Spring 2004

Vol. 04, No. 2


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The unbroken horizon lines near Wahpeton, N.D., provided early inspiration to Fritz Scholder, now one of the country's most valued artists. Scholder used the view to fire his imagination. Born in 1937 in Breckenridge, Minn., Scholder knew early that he'd be an artist, winning a Veteran's Day poster contest at age 10.

Though he is strongly associated with images of American Indians he first painted in the mid-1960s, Scholder's body of work is vast, including bronzes, books, mixed media constructions, lithographs, etchings and monotypes. He's always created works in series: landscapes, dogs, butterflies, cats, dogs, dreams, women, the Empire State Building, ancient Egypt.

His paternal grandmother was a member of the Luiseno tribe of Mission Indians, and his father was an administrator at the Wahpeton Indian School. Scholder has said that he does not consider himself Indian, though he's generally considered a leader of what has come to be known as the New American Indian Art movement -- appropriate for a man who has said that his favorite word is "paradox."

From 1964 to 1969, Scholder taught at the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe, N.M. There, he worked to find a style that meant not painting cliches of either the region or its people. What emerged was his distinctive look: a colorful fusion of abstraction, surrealism and pop, hovering between the figurative and the abstract.

Scholder says he painted the Indian "real, not red," refusing to bow to romanticized, stereotyped imagery. He painted what he says he saw and acquired instant notoriety for his interpretations of both American Indian history and contemporary discord.

The subject of multiple books and documentaries, Scholder holds a B.A., an M.F.A. and five honorary degrees. He has received fellowships from the Whitney Foundation, Rockefeller Foundation, Ford Foundation and the American Academy of Art and Letters, and is a lifetime member of the Salon d'Automne of Paris. His work is represented in collections including the Museum of Modern Art, the Bibliotheque Nationale in Paris, the Los Angeles County Museum, the Walker Art Center, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and the National Museum of American Art.

Scholder has said that painting is something he must do. In a 1995 interview with the Smithsonian Institution's Archives of American Art, he elaborated: "The power of art in anyone's life, it seems to me, is a must. Every society has had ... some form of religion and some form of art. It is, it seems to me, a basic activity of putting down one's marks that you were here. And whether it's paint or typewriter and paper, at least for me, I've always felt that I should try to in some way communicate -- and painting is simply another way of communicating."

--Kathy Freise

Student Focused. Land Grant. Research University.