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Howard Terpning: Tribute to the Plains People
May 12 - July 1, 2012
The Autry National Center presents a dynamic retrospective exhibition of the work of premier American West painter Howard Terpning. Known for his devotion and respect for both the material culture and traditions of Blackfoot, Crow, Lakota, and other Plains tribes, Terpning's work does more than paint a picture; it tells a story. (right: Howard Terpning, The Force of Nature Humbles All Men, 2003, oil on canvas. Winner of the 2004 Masters of the American West Award and Trustees' Purchase Award. Acquisition made possible in part by Cindy and Alan Horn, Michael Kammerer, Durwood and Darlene Barnett, Saralynn and John J. Geraghty, Roe and Beverly Hatlen, Mian and Helen Situ, Rosella and Carl Thorne, and Robert J. and Leslie Zasa; 2003.106.1)
Using historical research, meticulous attention to detail, and sweeping landscape vistas, Terpning creates engaging, open-ended stories about life, family, and survival on the Western frontier during the period prior to the end of the Indian Wars. Terpning often consults with Native American tribal members to ensure accuracy in all his works. This exhibition brings together over eighty masterworks, some never displayed in public before.
What started as a successful illustration career in Hollywood -- with work on such films as Gone With the Wind, The Sound of Music, and Cleopatra -- led to a focus on Western art, which is often narrative in style. During a civilian combat artist assignment, Terpning traveled to Vietnam and witnessed the devastation of the local indigenous population during the war. Those eyewitness accounts sparked his interest in the treatment of Native peoples in the United States. Today, he has close relations with living Native Americans, is invited to attend many of their sacred ceremonies, and tribal elders call him the storyteller of their people. Terpning is also considered by his peers and collectors to be one of the greatest of all painters of the American West.
"Having my work exhibited at the Autry as a retrospective will be an important milestone in my career, and I feel honored to have my work displayed in the museum. The paintings reflect my admiration for Native people, and the stories that I tell on canvas provide a very small window into the lives of the First Americans who inhabited the Great Plains," said Terpning.
Several of Terpning's masterful pieces have been on exhibit at the Autry throughout the years, including the 2004 Masters of the American West award-winning piece The Force of Nature Humbles All Men. It is now part of the Autry's permanent collection. Fascinated by the movement and force of rushing water, he was inspired to create this painting from a thundering, cascading river of water moving through a narrow gorge in Glacier National Park. Using photographs he took as the basis for a large rock formation, Terpning placed a group of Blackfeet riders on this natural stage. Shown looking in multiple directions, their outward gaze suggests an even more expansive scene to which each individual reacts differently. Terpning considers this his signature work.
Sound of a Distant Bugle (2009) also conjures the imagery of water. While attending a gathering at the Big Horn River, Terpning observed a group of young Native men charging into the river on horseback. Working with the idea of stepping back in time, Terpning visualized them as a party of Cheyenne warriors cooling off on a hot day as they look out for potential danger. An intricate design and complex composition are demonstrated in numerous details throughout the painting. Highlighting the reflections in the water, maintaining the illusion of a fast-moving current, creating the appearance of wet skin, placing the figures in different depths, and creating movement throughout the piece are characteristics of Terpning's masterful style. These two Autry pieces will join the 84 additional works on display.
"In my opinion, this retrospective exhibition of the work of Howard Terpning is among the most important in Western art," said John Geraghty, Autry Trustee and Special Advisor to the annual Masters of the American West Fine Art Exhibition and Sale.
An accompanying book, Howard Terpning: Tribute to the Plains People, by artist Harley Brown will be published by Greenwich Workshop Press in early 2012.
About Howard Terpning
Howard Terpning has tremendous respect for the Native American people who lived in the nineteenth century, portraying them honestly and accurately. He has close relations with living Native Americans, is invited to attend many of their sacred ceremonies, and tribal elders call him the storyteller of their people. He is also considered by his peers and collectors to be one of the greatest of all painters of the American West.
Terpning spent more than twenty-five years as an illustrator after receiving his art education at the Chicago Academy of Fine Art and the American Academy of Art. He began to transition from a lucrative illustration career to fine art during the mid-1970s. He was invited to join the prestigious National Academy of Western Art and became a member of the Cowboy Artists of America in 1979. The awards he has received from these two institutions are too numerous to list.
Terpning has won many awards at the Autry National Center's Masters of the American West Fine Art Exhibition and Sale. He received the Thomas Moran Memorial Award for Painting in 2011, 2010, 2009, 2008, 2007, 2006, and 2001. In 2005, his painting Camp at the Cougar's Den was honored with both the Thomas Moran Memorial Award for Painting and the Patrons' Choice Award. At the 2004 Masters, The Force of Nature Humbles All Men received the Masters of the American West Award and the Trustees' Purchase Award, and in 2000 Terpning was given the John J. Geraghty Award in recognition of his advancement of contemporary Western art.
Terpning and his wife, Marlies, reside in Tucson, Arizona.
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