Fritz Scholder 1937-2005
Fritz Scholder was one of the most famous 20th century Native American artists. He was born in Breckenridge, Minnesota, in 1937 and spent his childhood in North and South Dakota. While Scholder’s ancestry was mostly German, one of his grandmothers was a Luiseño from California. Scholder used to refer to himself as a “non-Indian Indian artist”. When he was a high school student in Pierre, South Dakota, his teacher was the famous Sioux Artist Oscar Howe. In 1957, Scholder’s family moved to Sacramento, California, where Scholder studied under the acclaimed artist Wayne Thiebaud who introduced him to abstract expressionism and gave him his first opportunity to exhibit his works. In 1961 he participated in the Rockefeller Indian Art Project at the University of Arizona. He turned to Native American subject matters in 1964 when he joined the staff at the Institute of American Indian Arts. As soon as his new series of paintings on the American Indian was presented to the public in 1967, it stirred a heated dispute because Scholder portrayed Indians with American flags, beer cans, or cones of ice cream. Due to the vehement protest on the part of traditionally oriented critics, who accused him of sullying the dignity of Native Americans, Scholder became one of the most controversial characters in the Native American art scene. In the course of his career, Scholder was the recipient of several scholarships and awards – by the Whitney Foundation, the Rockefeller Foundation, the Ford Foundation, and the Academy of Arts and Letters. In addition, he was awarded five honorary doctorates. Scholder’s work has been exhibited all over the world.
When I first came to Santa Fe, I vowed to myself that I would not paint Indians. Then I saw the numerous overromanticized paintings of the ‘noble savage’ looking into the sunset and decided that someone should paint the Indian in a different context. My concern therefore includes depicting the strange paradox created in the transition to the 20th century; the quiet humor of the nature-oriented person; the faces that show the imposition of the non-Indian and the tenacity for holding onto an identity; the monstrous metamorphosis that at times makes the Indian his own worst enemy; the contemporary Indian/cowboy with a can of beer in his hand. (Fritz Scholder)