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Indians Playing Indian at the Midwestern Corn Palaces, 1892-2013.

In 1887, a Sioux City, Iowa newspaper reported on one of the daily parades that was part of the weeklong festivities for that year's Corn Palace celebration. While other parades had featured pioneer floats, marching bands, and local civic organizations, this one was made up of some 200 Omaha, Sioux, and Winnebago people from nearby reservations. "About seventy five of the adult Indians were mounted," the reporter noted. "They were in full war paint and decked out with feathers, skins of wild animals, bright-colored prints and gaudy cloths and with faces smeared with vermilion." Behind them came "wagons ... full of younger Indians, squaws and papooses... in gala day attire." While the crowds enjoyed the spectacle, so did the participants: "It may be doubted whether any of the throngs of people better enjoyed the entertainment than those Indians who were so prominent a feature of it. The men and women ... chatted jollily as they rode along. And the ... children gazed with wide-open mouths at the decorations." One warrior on horseback "put everyone under lasting obligation by ever and anon giving forth the genuine, old-fashioned aboriginal war-whoop ... and they cheered him for it heartily." (1)

These people were "playing Indian." And they were doing it in honor of a corn palace--a kind of building that served as the centerpiece for a harvest festival. Huge, wooden exhibition halls, corn palaces got their name because they were covered inside and out with a decorative cladding made primarily from com (Fig. 1). (2) The 1887 Sioux City Corn Palace was the earliest, but the city would go on to build one annually for the next four years before devastating floods in 1892 prevented them from carrying out their plans for a sixth. Mitchell, South Dakota, readily took on the idea, built its first corn palace in 1892, and with a few interruptions has had one ever since. Mitchell thus proudly proclaims today it is the home of the "world's only corn palace." We might more accurately note that it is the only place where one survives. Similar structures, celebrating corn or other crops, were built throughout the Midwest from 1887 through the 1930s. Indeed, at least 35 such grain palaces are known. (3)

Corn palaces were places where people "played" in multiple senses of the word. But what does this mean? In this essay we will use the concept of playing as a critical framework for analysis, and we will do so in a multivalent way. We see playing as a cluster of concepts that sometimes mesh well together and other times are paradoxical. To start understanding play in the context of the corn palaces, we note that the purpose of the festivals accompanying them was to celebrate the harvest, to entertain the populace, and to promote the growth and development of the region. Playing--in the sense of having a good time--was at the core of the events that took place here. Their programs included live music, athletic contests, parades, and pageantry. Playing in the sense that Philip Deloria and other contemporary social critics have used the term, however, refers to how people experiment and determine their place in a complex world. In his influential study of American culture, Playing Indian, Deloria explored how non-Native peoples, most of whom were white, sometimes negotiated their national identity by pretending to be Indians. (4) This is a type of playing that, on the surface, was often lighthearted, but on a deeper level was affirming the cultural privilege of white people and perpetuating social justice against Native Americans. Deloria, however, does not emphasize that Native peoples were also participants in the forms of playing that, at least on the surface, seem culturally oppressive.

One of the goals of this essay is thus to ask ourselves how--and why--Indian peoples "played Indian," and we use the corn palaces as anchors for our analysis. Such a focus is enlightening, as no-nonsense play was indeed present at the corn palaces, alongside the fun and games. We examine the history of the Sioux City and Mitchell Corn Palaces during three time periods. The first is the late nineteenth century when the buildings were new and Indians were not only invited to participate but were also included in the iconography of the decorations. We thus begin by asking whether the Indians participating in the 1887 parade and delighting the crowds with war whoops may have been playing in multiple ways. Could they have been both engaging in lighthearted enjoyment as well as serious cultural negotiation? We argue that yes, indeed, they likely were engaging in a culturally important process of designing, looking at, thinking about, and otherwise interrogating their world. The second is the mid-twentieth century when a Native American artist, Oscar Howe, was hired to take over the design of the Mitchell corn palace murals. He chose to display mosaic murals using a visual vocabulary that emphasized his Yanktonai Nakota heritage. We argue that his art designed for the palace was informed by a desire to assert that his people had a rich and important cultural heritage, which deserves to be cherished and protected rather than flippantly ignored or literally destroyed. We show that the prospect of cultural devastation was real at the time, as Howe's mosaic murals were installed when the state government was attempting to build the Garrison dam that would ultimately submerge huge tracts of Native land. The last period that we will interrogate is the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries when the focus shifted to finding a "usable past"--to use the terms of the critic Van Wyck Brooks for a history that helps a community to understand what it once was, what it is now, and what it should be in the future. (5) By this time the palace in Mitchell had become a symbol of the region's heritage. It, indeed, is on the National Register of Historic Places. We show that it is an anchor for people in South Dakota to think about their past--including racial conflict. It does so in a celebratory way that was accomplished, in part, with the legacy of Howe playing Indian.

In light of these three approaches to playing--as lighthearted fun, as a facade for serious cultural politics, and as reinterpreting the past--it is clear that when people enjoyed themselves at the corn palaces they were not always being simply whimsical and frivolous. Ultimately, by tracing the history of Native peoples at the corn palaces over these three eras, we reveal how both Native and Euro-American identity took shape, via playing Indian, in the developing Midwestern United States under the influence politically, economically, and socially of corn farming. It is a complicated story of contested origin claims and contrary visions for development, paired with the human desire to participate in cultural celebrations.


In 1887, a newspaper commentator provided an ironic assessment of the role Indians played at the corn palace. He claimed that white settlers had formed a "vanguard of the mighty army which drove out the red man and made his hunting ground a corn-field, the greatest and richest in the world." But now, "to make the thing more binding" the white people had "set up a Palace to the corn king at Sioux City," to which "as if in fate's deep sarcasm, they have invited back the Indians as guests." (6) So, were the Indian guests participating in the Corn Palace parade the defeated, dispossessed "red men" the commentator described? Unfortunately, the historical evidence suggests that they often were. When the erection of corn palaces and the accompanying parades and cultural festivals were organized by white settlers, contributions of parade floats and displays of grain art made by fellow white people tended to be valued and

Native American traditions denigrated. This bigotry is unsurprising, but it is worth pointing out that these festivals were not billed as celebrations of white racism but rather as community events that all were welcome to participate in. As such, some Native people took part. In this section, we will thus explore why Indians took part in these early corn palace festivals, spawned amidst a culture of racism.

At their worst, corn palaces were tied to agendas that resulted in the tragic displacements of people to reservation lands--often marginal in quality--or denial of land altogether through the international law of terra nullius. (7) The corn palaces, indeed, were closely tied to turn-of-the-century land rights issues. In 1887--the same year that the first corn palace was erected in Sioux City--the US Congress passed the Dawes Act.

This notorious legislation, aimed at efforts to assimilate Indians into the dominant white culture, abolished the communal holding of land on reservations in favor of small individually-held parcels. The ostensive goal was to encourage Indians to abandon longstanding strategies of communal subsistence and to adopt white patterns of individual entrepreneurship by becoming family farmers. While the Dawes Act and four subsequent acts were meant to give Indians private ownership of land, one key provision was that after the allotments were made, the "left over" land could be sold to white settlers.

The history of how the Dawes Act played out offers further evidence of the symbolic role that corn palaces played in the re-distribution of the Indian lands. In 1910 to 1911, the Rose Bud and Pine Ridge Reservation lands in South Dakota's Bennett and Mellette Counties were opened, and homesteaders could apply for them at designated registration points. (8) One of those was in Gregory, South Dakota. There, in 1911, a Registration Office was built and decorated with corn murals nearly identical to those that had been installed on Mitchell's corn palace the previous year. In fact, Floyd Gillis, the main decorator for the Mitchell Palace, created both installations. (9) The one-story building housing the registration office was located on Main Street. It had a central ogee dome and two side entrances with a frieze of corn murals depicting an Indian in a war bonnet, a horned steer, a US shield in the center, and abstract Indian motifs. The irony of using Indian imagery to ornament a building dedicated to selling Indian lands to white settlers was only topped by the fact that Indians from the reservations also marched in the parade to mark the opening of the building. Just as the Indians had marched at the Sioux City Corn Palace in 1887, they seemed--at least from a white point of view--to be affirming white policies.

When the white organizers invited Indians to "play Indian" at events such as the Gregory opening or the corn palace celebrations, two different roles were possible. One was to play the traditional Indian by wearing native costumes, riding ponies, giving "War whoops" in parades, and demonstrating physical prowess in foot races. One Sioux City commentator was particularly taken with the way Indian women were willing to shed their shoes and stockings to participate in the competition. (10) The other role was as the assimilated "civilized Indian," played by demonstrating newly-acquired skills with band concerts and crop displays. Brass bands from Indian schools were frequently invited to provide music at both the Sioux City and Mitchell corn palaces, and Indians from the nearby reservations often had their own corn displays--side by side with those their white neighbors.

A white view of all this was conveyed in an 1887 Sioux City Journal story reporting that the Corn Palace committee members were "pleased with the Indian exhibit in the Palace and want to encourage these aborigines in their efforts to flow with the tide of civilization and become useful people instead of savages." Similarly, the paper reported that when President Cleveland visited the Corn Palace in 1887, he was astonished by the Indian exhibit. He was particularly impressed with the size of the ears of corn Native people had grown, as well as the "pretty designs...all the work of the untutored savage." (11) From the point of view of these whites, the corn palaces were the material evidence of white triumph in "civilizing" the Indians and the physical manifestation of white "improvement" of the land. By playing Indian in this context, Native people were understood by white people to be not only accepting but celebratory of the new status quo.

Against this white view, however, we might ask why the Indians participated and what they gained by playing either their traditional or newly-civilized roles. Evidence is scant because the Indians wrote little about it. Accounts that do exist are often filtered through a white retelling, and it is unclear how much of the Native American perspective was coerced. Still, there is material for interpretation. One obvious conclusion is that at a time when official governmental policy was aimed at "civilizing" the natives by wiping out their cultures, the opportunity to wear traditional costumes, demonstrate horsemanship, and even thrill white audiences with war whoops was a way for Indians to celebrate their past and retain their traditions.

A parallel for this might be found in Indian participation in the contemporaneous Wild West Shows. There, while the phenomenon of "Indians playing Indian" contributed to stereotypes, it also affirmed aspects of Indian identity. As one performer in Buffalo Bill's show explained, "We were raised on horseback; that is the way we had to work. These men furnished us the same work we were raised to; that is the reason we want to work." (12) In other words, Native American performers chose to participate in the Wild West Shows, and by extension, one might argue, they chose to participate in the corn palace festival parades for the chance to show off their skills.

There is also evidence that some Indian tribes appropriated the agricultural fair as a form they could use to their own advantage. (13) On the Crow Creek reservation, for example, from 1906 to 1911, there were annual fairs with agricultural displays, grain art, demonstrations of Indian crafts, and even traditional Indian dances. The Indian Bureau generally disapproved of such displays of unassimilated heritage but turned a blind eye at the fairs because the overarching intent seemed to be to embrace change. (14) We can also consider the Indian contributions of corn and vegetables to the corn palace displays in this light. While national policy encouraged farming among Native people, and newspaper accounts claimed the displays as evidence of that success, among the Dakota, Arikara, Mandan, Hidatsa, Pawnee, and many other tribes in the Midwest there was a long history of grain farming. To them, the displays were likely understood as expressions of their long-held agricultural skills rather than cultural change. Furthermore, we could infer from the quality of the corn that so amazed the President that traditional skills in agriculture were comparable in quality and, perhaps, sometimes superior to those of the whites.

A closer look at the history of corn farming among Native and white peoples reveals the paradoxical character of the corn palaces. While the buildings made light of the Native past they also affirmed the importance of an indigenous crop. Descriptions of the indigenous corn grown in the Midwest during the nineteenth century survive, as do some of the plants themselves. The German Prince Maximilian of Wied, for example, travelled through the upper Midwest from 1832 to 1834, carefully recording the crops grown by many people, including the Mandan living in what became the Dakota territory. He described this corn as "White, Yellow, Red, Spotted Black and sweet maize; very hard yellow maize, white or red striped maize, and very tender yellow maize." Such varieties were typical of the broader region as well. Trading seed between tribes in the Midwest was common. Indeed, if we compare photographs of the varieties that were grown historically by a tribe in the southern Midwest, such as the Pawnee from what is today Nebraska and Kansas, with the varieties grown in the northern Midwest, such as the Mandan from what is today North and South Dakota, we can see numerous commonalities among the ears (Fig. 2). Both tribes had varieties with soft and hard kernels; varieties that were starchy and sweet; varieties that were red, blue, white, yellow, and multicolored; and varieties that varied in length and girth. (15)

This diversity and variety is in sharp contrast to the most popular strain of corn grown by white people in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Their preferred variety was Yellow Dent. This type of corn was celebrated at competitive "com shows," where the ideal type was nine and a half to ten and a half inches long, highly symmetrical, with eighteen to twenty rows of kernels filling out both the tips and butts. The kernels were keystone shaped and plump, with slight "dents" in their crowns when dried--hence the name. Prizewinning ears were valued, saved, planted, and traded. In 1900 a prize-winning ear could sell for as much as one hundred and fifty dollars, while an undistinguished ear was worth only a few cents. The popularity of this corn can, in part, be attributed to the fact that it was visually distinct from the indigenous corn of the Midwest and served to differentiate white people from Indians. The implicit assumption among white settlers, of course, was that their new varieties were better. (16)

So where did Yellow Dent corn come from? During the 1700s, most varieties grown in the northeast of the US had "flinty" kernels that were broader than deep with little to no dent. These kernels were found on long, slender, eight-rowed ears with white cobs, and Native Americans historically cooked them by parching. In contrast, varieties in the southeast had "gourdseed" kernels--so named because they were deeper than broad and looked like the seeds of gourds. These grew on short, fat, ears with sixteen to thirty rows on red cobs, and they were historically cooked by boiling. (17) Yellow Dent corn is an amalgamation of the two. It came into being serendipitously, and it was perfected by selective breeding for decades. (18)

Breeders such as Oscar H. Will, who founded the Pioneer Brand Seed House in North Dakota, promoted Yellow Dent corn. He and his son George were aware of the varieties of indigenous corn available--in fact the corn reproduced in Figure 2 is from their collection. Nonetheless, on the covers of their catalogs for 1911 and 1918 they showed a single indigenous variety, variously labeled as "Squaw Corn" or "Ancestor" or "The Parent." It is a medium-sized multicolored ear with a slight taper, and it is juxtaposed with the larger, more symmetrical, yellow and white ears labeled "Descendants" and "Pioneer Bred Dakota Seed." While the imagery in these catalogs is not a complete misrepresentation--the Mandan did grow some multicolored ears and the Will family did develop new varieties from them--it is also not especially honest. By excluding the larger, consistently colored, ears that they knew the Mandan grew, the Wills implied that all indigenous corn was calico rather than solid yellow or white. And by making their family's ears larger on the page they implied that theirs were consistently larger and better. The catalogs are thus an example of imagery intended to suggest the benefits of white progress and development. (19)

Ironically, this narrative, which differentiated the corn of Native people from whites, breaks down at the corn palaces. Here, in order to make the mosaic panels with their rich detail, artisans needed a wider color palette than Yellow Dent corn could supply. As such, the decorators used the greatest range of colors that they could find to adorn the buildings. This display of diversity, then, was not only an acceptance but a celebration of the numerous forms of corn that had been developed in the region by indigenous peoples over the course of centuries through selective breeding. When we consider this fact, it sheds a new light on Indian participation. The murals were a testimony to Indian agricultural traditions, and this might help explain why Native people might be drawn to the festivities, enter their own crops for judging, and organize similar festivals within their own communities.

An example of Indians being actively involved in corn development comes from Oklahoma, where in 1913, Comanche students from the Fort Sills Indian School contributed 92 displays for the Kaffir Corn Palace--a venue created for the International Dry Farming Congress held in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Like other Indian schools, Fort Sills emphasized cultural assimilation and vocational training. Young men farmed 160 acres--the size of a standard homestead in the US--using the latest techniques of scientific agriculture. The resulting crops were processed on-site in a canning plant and were sold on the emerging consumer market for convenience foods. (20) Besides the Comanche students' display, there were also exhibits from the Pawnee tribe of a dark blue corn that was cooked by parching. The local newspaper praised this native corn as being bigger and tasting better than those produced by white people. "Persons who have eaten this dried corn say that it is superior to any brand of canned corn upon the market." The Pawnee display of grain art at the Kaffir Corn Palace included not only ears of corn but also corn-art celebrations of indigenous life. Indeed, "one feature of the background was an Indian tepee made out of kaffir, feteria, red milo, and red kaffir topped off with a bunch of cane to represent black smoke. A little beaded papoose was looking out of the tepee opening." (21)

Thus, while at first glance the story of the corn palaces and crop fairs might seem to be one of white exploitation and triumph, a closer look suggests Native Americans played Indian at the events as a means of celebrating their own multicolored ears of corn. The most compelling example of a Native person celebrating their heritage by "playing Indian" at these places, however, is found in the mid-twentieth century developments at the Mitchell, South Dakota, Corn Palace.


The most long-lasting example of Indian engagement at a corn palace began in 1948, when the city hired Oscar Howe, a Nakota painter, to design murals for the building. Why would a mostly-white city hire such a Native person for this prominent job? One reason is probably circumstantial. Howe was a local artist of some repute. He had been drafted into the army in 1942, served in Europe, and met his future wife in Germany. When he returned after the war he settled in Mitchell and arranged with the local college, Dakota Wesleyan, to both attend as an undergraduate and be a paid artist-in-residence with some teaching duties. Thus, he had some recognition within the city before 1948, when the Corn Palace Committee asked him to design the annual murals. He did so until 1971, and the results were new, visually critical, examples of "playing Indian" at a corn palace. As we will show below, Howe opted to play with a visual vocabulary that was widely understandable--derived in part from the "cowboys and Indians" of popular movies and books--but he mixed it with longstanding symbols from his Native culture. Thus, he playfully evokes stereotypes before undermining them with culturally-specific imagery.

The fact that Howe was a person who thought about social issues can be demonstrated by his outrage in 1958 at people who viewed Indians with romantic notions of the past. Indeed, he despised when Native people were "herded like a bunch of sheep, with no right for individualism, dictated to as the Indian has always been." He hated that his people were "put on reservations and treated like a child," and that institutions were prone to "holding us in chains." Such comments demonstrate that Howe had an astutely critical mind, and that he was also willing to speak out against injustice. (22) By happenstance, Howe's hire to design mosaic murals for the Mitchell Corn Palace occurred during a period of turmoil in Native politics. The US federal government was proposing to dam the Missouri River, thus submerging indigenous land, and newspapers were following the plan carefully. It is this conflict which would be in the back of people's minds as they viewed Howe's murals. The imagery that Howe designed celebrated Native culture and it can thus be understood as a tool in an ongoing struggle to have indigenous land acknowledged, respected, and valued by the broader American populace. Indeed, during the first year that he created the mural cycle, 1948, he illustrated the traditional story of the origin of corn, he showed images of cowboys and Indians on horseback in pursuit of steer and bison, and he included abstract patterns that evoked teepees.

Some historical background is useful for understanding Howe's contributions to corn palace history. Homesteading had begun in the Mitchell area in 1873, with the first registrant being Levi Hain. (23) Nineteen years later, in 1892, the community had become large enough to erect a palace. The idea originated with Louis Beckwith, who was a real-estate agent, and he recruited the jeweler and druggist Larry O. Gale to his cause. They helped to found the Corn Belt Real Estate Association, which is the body that officially erected the building and its exhibits. Thus began a tradition that, for the first years of its existence, was nearly interchangeable with the other palaces described above. In 1919, however, the City of Mitchell made a strategic choice that has caused its corn palace tradition to endure when others did not. Rather than using temporary buildings, as had been done for all earlier palaces, that year the Mitchell leaders decided to erect a permanent structure. Designed by the architects Cornelius W. and George Rapp of Chicago, it was built of concrete, steel, and brick. When it opened in 1921 it had inset panels on the exterior and a continuous frieze along three sides of the interior where the corn murals were to be placed.

The permanency of the Mitchell corn palace appears to have made the tradition of the harvest festival more resilient and adaptive to changing times and culture. In 1933, the newspaper editors in Mitchell remarked on the persistence of the venerable tradition in a rapidly modernizing era:

   One thinks of pioneers as individuals. It is
   individuals who build a state, it is pioneer
   individuals who make that building possible. But
   there are also institutions which may be classed as
   pioneers--institutions which have stood the test
   of time, have continued to function through fat
   years and lean, have sort of grown up with one
   generation and grown old with another. It is so with
   the Mitchell Corn Palace. The two men--Louis
   Beckwith and Larry O. Gale--in whose minds the
   plan of a Corn Palace for Mitchell was originated,
   have passed on. Most of the men who worked with
   them on those early-day committees have passed
   with them. But the institution which they founded
   remains. (24)

Rather than viewing their Corn Palace as an antiquated tradition, the newspaper editors believed that it "like grandma and her bobbed hair, has become modern, and still holds a wide place in the life of the community." (25) Understanding the "wide place" occupied by the corn palace demands that one examine how the white consciousness of indigenous land and farming had shifted over the four decades of the Palace's life.

During the 1870s, when the city of Mitchell was founded, the land where it is located was not actively being farmed by Native peoples. It was land nonetheless that bore strong attachments to Native American history and traditions. This became ever-more apparent to local people when the prehistoric remains of a farming settlement were excavated on the outskirts of town. The settlement, consisting of lodges made from logs, earth, and sod, was occupied by about 1000 CE by ancestors of the Mandan or Arikara peoples. While evidence of this indigenous past might have encouraged the residents of Mitchell to value Native American cultures and histories more highly, it could also affirm racist worldviews. Judge R.C. Bakewell remarked in 1937, for example, that "Indians lived on the shores of what is now Lake Mitchell for a thousand years, and left nothing but a few arrow-heads and some broken pottery ... In 50 years the pioneers of Davison county, and their sons and daughters, have built a civilization." (26) The shards, arrowheads, and other remains that Bakewell referred to had been noticed by a student at the local liberal arts college, Dakota Wesleyan, around 1910, and the site they were from was mapped in 1922 by the archaeologist, William H. Over. (27) When a dam was erected on the adjacent Firesteel Creek in 1928, creating an artificial lake for recreational and practical purposes, the archaeological site became public property. It was located in a city park, and during the 1930s, one of the settlement's earth lodges was reconstructed by the Works Progress Administration. Thus, the public became aware that Mitchell's Corn Palace rested on land that was once an indigenous corn field. (28)

It is amidst this newfound awareness of indigenous history that the hiring of the Native American painter Oscar Howe took place in 1948. Although documentation from the Corn Palace Committee does not survive, in retrospect it seems that they were open to the idea of presenting the history of the region in a new way--by choosing someone who would represent a Native point of view. Born in 1915 on the Crow Creek Indian Reservation in the eastern part of South Dakota, Howe's coming of age probably had some similarities with the anonymous Native American people discussed in the first section of this essay as participants in corn palace festivals. (29) Indeed, Native grain displays at corn palaces of an earlier era were linked to Indian boarding schools, which is a type of institution that Howe experienced. At age seven, Howe was forced to leave his family to go to the Indian School in Pierre, where he experienced the worst of assimilation policy. Denied his language and culture and beaten for any infraction, he got a reprieve at age ten, when school officials sent him home for a year due to health problems. He later claimed this was one of the most important years in his life. His grandmother took care of him and used that time to teach him about his culture and to share with him traditional stories and images. He was a talented artist, and his fortunes began to change in 1935 when he was chosen to go to Santa Fe to study art under Dorothy Dunn. This teacher's idea was to encourage the study of historical Native art and use it as the basis for developing a distinctively new Native American art movement. (30) The result was a normative style of work that is still associated with Native American culture in the southwest. It was done primarily in watercolor, using a palette of pastels. The brushwork emphasized smooth surfaces, and the resulting images often appear flat. Howe had some successes with Dunn's "Studio t Style," and he used it to make several WPA-sponsored murals, including one for the Carnegie Library's dome in Mitchell, South Dakota. (31)

Howe did not leave a lengthy set of explanations about his art for scholars to use when interpreting it, but from the imagery alone it is clear that he emphasized the importance of Native heritage and the enduring struggles of his people. The subject matter of his watercolor paintings tended to be traditional depictions of hunting, dancing, warfare, and games or stories from his culture. The work for the Corn Palace, however, was broader in focus and more socially-engaged in its implications. There he installed images relating to 5 the history of Native peoples but paired them with images of contemporary life to show the modernity of his people. Tepees were matched with modern houses, smoke signals were compared to telephones, bison were paired with cattle, and travois were paired with automobiles--all of which nudged his audience to contemplate the new realities of Native life. He did not shy away from addressing difficult social issues, either. Indeed, in Howe's mosaics for the Corn Palace he made imagery about such difficult topics as pollution, overhunting, and the atomic bomb. Given Howe's clear interest in the past and present of Native peoples, as well as his socially-engaged mind, it is difficult not to view his art in the light of contemporary developments affecting Indian sovereignty and land rights. Indian lands were again being threatened in the mid-twentieth century, and Howe may have intended his murals to help inculcate in public opinion a point of view that favored Indian land rights. Howe's interest in promoting pro-Native sentiments through his painting might also help to explain why he was willing to become involved with an institution that had historically worked against the interests of Indians.

Over the half of a century between the signing of the Dawes act and Howe's work at the Mitchell Corn Palace, Indian peoples of the Dakotas had forged new lifeways that drew on both their traditional corn farming as well as insights from newer scientific research. Much of the most fertile land under cultivation by Native peoples in the Dakotas, however, was in jeopardy during the 1940s because of a national agenda. In 1944 the Pick-Sloan Missouri Basin Program was initiated by the US Congress--a plan to erect numerous dams along the Missouri river. This water management program had many purposes, including irrigation, and the merits of this type of a project had been discussed in the Mitchell newspaper at least as early as 1933. (32) If enacted it would plunge underwater much of the most productive farmland used by Native peoples. From 1947 to 1949--concurrent with Howe's hire and first two years at the Palace--ongoing negotiations between tribes and Congress focused on the value of the Native land and whether dams should be built as planned, built in different locations, or not built at all. Clearly, Howe's personal history gave him a certain motivation to comment on this further encroachment on Native lands and rights and the Corn Palace furnished him the opportunity and the public venue to share a Native point of view on Indian affairs.

During the first year that he worked with the Corn Palace, it might be said that Howe "played Indian" in a recognizable way that resonated with the caricatures in popular entertainment. Indeed, his art emphasized aspects of his identity that assured that his audience in Mitchell would recognize him as authentically "Indian," according to prevailing white notions of Native identity. For example, he juxtaposed a silhouette of an Indian on horseback with a silhouette of a cowboy. He made it clear that his mosaics would reflect not only his own "modern Indian art" style, but also a traditional Indian iconography. In a 1948 newspaper interview, he explained: "This decorative designing of the panels on the Corn Palace is my first attempt to do modern Indian art with the unique media of corn and grain.... I am very much interested in it and so have tried to carry out my ideas of Indian symbolism and the modern flat Indian art works.... The use of corn and grain in decoration is unique and most fitting. I feel greatly honored in designing the Corn Palace." (33)

The most prominent mural Howe produced in his first year--located in the center of the facade--presented a distinctively Native view on the "Origin of Corn" (Fig, 3). Directly above the entrance to the Corn Palace, Howe installed a mosaic depicting a single corn stalk rising toward the bison sun--a circle with horns--an important Dakota symbol. Bordered by stepped rectangles that Howe identified as tepees, it was flanked by panels depicting Indian maidens holding ears of corn in each hand. As this iconography would not have been immediately recognizable to most non-Native viewers, Howe explained it in the local newspaper: the Dakota people encountered a female bison whose swollen udder dripped milk onto the earth. Overnight the drops formed a column and then grew into the first corn plant. Deemed a gift from the Great Spirit, it was cultivated by the Dakota people. (34) Howe's murals laid claim to the indigenous origin of the cash crop that supplied the basis for the local white economy. The program continued on the interior of the Palace. On the top of the proscenium an over-stage mosaic reading "welcome" was updated by Howe with the addition of descending side panels bearing Dakota symbols representing the rain cycle. (35) To the right of the stage, Howe created a panel with two Indians kneeling before a hilly landscape and, on the left, a "chief giving corn to a white man." Corner silhouettes represented a "white man's log cabin and Indian tepee" with a row of corn stalks in the background. (36) These interior panels evoke a historical juxtaposition. On the right, the Indians are alone and can pursue their own destinies. On the left, an Indian chief welcomes the white man into his land and offers him an important gift of corn--the very product that will bring wealth and prosperity to the territory and ultimately give rise to the Corn Palace that celebrates, as Howe's imagery has it, this Indian legacy.

From a certain point of view, this panel is troubling, as it glosses over the horrific history of white exploitation and abuse of Native peoples. Nonetheless, Howe seems to have intended the murals to make a pro-Indian point, to remind white spectators gently, and perhaps Indians too, of what modern society owes to Native peoples. In contrast to the 1887 Sioux City reporter's version of white people taking over the Indians' undeveloped hunting ground and making it into a rich corn field, Howe's version both emphasizes the view of com as a gift from nature with a long history in Indian culture and the generosity of Indians in sharing corn and the land to grow it on with white people.

The juxtaposition of Indian past and white present in Howe's murals might also be read another way--as an argument for the continuity of Indian identity and culture with that of modern Mitchell. On the facade of the Corn Palace, a depiction of buffalo hunting evokes the Indian past and is paired with a modern scene of cattle ranching. Ranching was a tradition in Howe's own family, and the cowboy is rendered in a silhouette to permit the figure to be read as either an Indian or a white person. One point that this comparison of Indian brave and cowboy seems to make is that, from Squaw corn to Yellow Dent, from buffalo to steer, the Indian past and the white present are not only analogous but continuous. The people of both cultures are shaped by corn, cows, and the land that nourishes them. Howe's murals in this sense seek to put to rest the spectacle of Indian's "playing Indian" in the early corn parades--a spectacle that offered for whites an eye-popping display of feathers, war whoops and face paint that served to reinforce notions of cultural difference. Howe reframes Indian identity for the white audience around themes that suggest a common culture. In fact, as an Indian producing the mosaics for the white man's Corn Palace, Howe's participation in the cultural life of Mitchell seems to suggest, "We are more alike than different."

Howe's murals sought to raise popular consciousness about Native farming traditions and, hence, claims to the land. It is difficult to know whether efforts like this affected the negotiations to dam the Missouri River. Nonetheless, this type of effort reflects an important transition in the mid-twentieth century in the relation of Native American peoples to American society. Howe saw himself as an intermediary between cultures. He used the Corn Palace mosaics as a means of bringing people together and of helping to shape the public perception of both Native American people and the history of the region. The plans to dam the Missouri river, for better or worse, were carried through, with only modest financial compensation given to tribes by the federal government. Although Howe's immediate family was not living along the Missouri, the project was devastating to the Great Sioux Nation as a whole, as well as to the Mandan and Arikara peoples, whose ancestral lands surrounded the Mitchell Corn Palace. (During the early twentieth century the Mandan and Arikara peoples had continued to grow corn with a mixture of traditional and new agricultural methods, about 400 miles northwest of Mitchell.) To place the events in a broader context, it is notable that the activist and scholar, Vine Deloria Jr., believed that this was "without doubt, the single most destructive act ever perpetrated on any tribe by the United States." (37)


Since Howe's retirement from involvement with the Palace in 1971, the venerable Mitchell institution has entered yet another phase of existence. The Corn Palace Committee, during the late twentieth century, did not radically revamp the institution to forge a new future but rather came to regard it as a relic of a bygone era with a cherished memory. Visitors to the Palace today are not presented with displays extolling the advantages of new techniques for growing grain. There is no agenda to promote combine harvesters, transgenic seeds, or pest- and herbicides. In most respects, the vital commercial and economic functions that the Corn Palace was created to perform in the nineteenth century are no longer vital, and the Palace itself is in many respects a monument to its own memory. This does not mean, however, that the institution has lost relevance. It has, rather, been elevated to a central position in the city's self-identity and has become the de facto anchor for thinking about what Van Wyck Brooks would call the region's "usable past." To use this critic's terms, this is not a place where people learn trivia about history, but rather a place where people find out "that others have desired the things we desire and have encountered the same obstacles, and that in some degree time has begun to face those obstacles down and make the way straight for us." (38) In this section, we argue that the city has found Howe's willingness to "play Indian" to be particularly useful, and it thus continues to celebrate the long-dead artist. We suggest that this is because the memory of Howe is today part of a usable past, in which contemporary Americans who are anxious about racism find comfort and reassurance in the story of a community that, decades ago, enshrined a Native American artist as its hero. The story, indeed, serves as a note of optimism that is productive for people wanting to envision a future with less bigotry.

We have shown thus far in this article that the initial urge to erect corn palaces was tied to the oppression of Native people by taking their land and confining them to reservations, such that mostly-white people could prosper in the Midwest. This is a Eurocentric narrative that Americans are no longer comfortable with in the twenty-first century, and it should thus be unsurprising that the Corn Palace in Mitchell no longer underscores this reality. Instead, it opts to promote a narrative that suggests that the community does not have a racist mentality but rather one that is sophisticated in its approach to multiculturalism and that values the creative output of great artists. Indeed, although Howe stopped designing art for the Palace nearly forty years ago, his visual presence has remained strongly present there. In 1980, the Palace paid tribute to Oscar Howe by devoting the entire decorative scheme of the building to the artist. This included installing six of his most successful panels inside the auditorium permanently, along with a temporary cycle of panels on the exterior. The project was described as a "resurrection" of Howe's earlier era of design on both a symbolic and technical level. Not only were his images to be on display in perpetuity but the project coordinator, Margaret Quintal, explained that workers used "the original technique of applying corn to the panels" that Howe had developed--a task that required 40 acres of corn to actualize. (39) The auditorium was renovated to prepare for this permanent installation. A set of older mural panels by Howe already existed in this interior space, and the new scheme would not accommodate them. In an act that may reflect the degree to which these were admired and a desire to preserve the images in situ, the earlier works were concealed behind a false ceiling, and "there they will remain." (40) While Howe was still an active artist at this time, poor health prevented him from extensive participation in the project. As such, the local white artist Calvin Schultz recreated Howe's murals by studying plans and ephemera, and he designed a new image for the space over the marquee--a portrait of Howe himself. (41)

It is also noteworthy that one of Howe's Native American students, Arthur Amiotte, contributed a new design that was installed on the top of the proscenium (Fig. 4). (42) Amiotte was a notable artist in his own right, having developed a national reputation by the time that he was hired to make mosaics for the Palace. (Paintings and collages that make paradoxical or ironic references to Lakota history and experiences, such as the Battle of the Little Bighorn and the Wild West Shows, are among his best-known works.) (43) Amiotte's contribution to the Palace focused on the "singular cycle of nature," and it was brought to fruition under the supervision of Schultz. Because Amiotte's painted plan included a full spectrum of colors--more than existed in the available corn--the schemata was reinterpreted before installation. As Schultz once explained, you "can't go into lots of detail when you use a medium like corn. I have to simplify things as much as possible." (44) Schultz also explained to the public the symbols in the mural, which were arrayed across a rainbow:

   At its center is the buffalo head, symbol of the
   main source of materials for the Indian who also
   believed the buffalo provided rain through the
   transformation of buffalo milk. It shows the fields,
   the animals, birds and plant life. On either side at
   the top are the morning and evening stars. Different
   colors in the fields might be interpreted as the
   different seasons. Since greens aren't possible to
   maintain, clouds are used for spring. (45)

The lifecycle of corn fills panels to the left and right of the stage with birds and raindrops in the background. Kernels fall to the earth on the far edges of the stage and are shown in progressive stages of growth. The centermost plants burst through clouds into the rainbow, thus marking the stage itself as the climax of farming.

Like the displays by Pawnee people installed nearly a century earlier, Amiotte's image of Native corn plants thrusting upward validates the indigenous origin of these crops--a fact not missed by the white farmer who grew colorful varieties to be used in the mosaics. Referring to the crops that he grew for the Palace in 1991, Dean Strand explained that "this is still the same corn the Indians were planting when we started settling the state." (46) The seeds that Strand sowed are obviously not exclusively descended from the plants grown 1,000 or even 100 years previously. The corn also had slowly been modified through selective seed-saving--a history that Strand himself freely acknowledges he is a part of. (47) As he explained, the colorful inbred varieties that he perfects for the Corn Palace were more uniform and often larger--sometimes 15 inches long--than the corn usually grown in the late twentieth century. (48) What is clear, however, is that these are varieties tied to the longstanding heritage of the indigenous Midwest.

Although intended to be permanent, the Amiotte mosaic was replaced in 1992 by one commissioned from Schultz titled "A Century of Reconciliation" (Fig. 5). The new mosaic was installed to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the institution's founding, and its design--with minor modifications and refurbished with fresh corn--remains on view in 2013. (49) Although less visually complex than Amiotte's and more dichotomous than Howe's, it nonetheless addresses Native American subject matter and continues the dialogue that Howe began. It features red and white hands--clasping each other in a handshake of friendship--flanked by paired medallions depicting an Indian and white person, a bison and cow, a tepee and a cabin--the very imagery that Howe had introduced in 1948.

As this history demonstrates, the Midwestern corn palaces bear witness to the significance of corn and the multiple perspectives that white and Native peoples brought to the buildings over the course of time. The agendas of earlier eras were variously celebrated, denigrated, transgressed, and transformed. Indeed, when we think about the ways Indians and white people "played" at the Sioux City and Mitchell corn palaces, we encounter a story with various perspectives about what happened in the past and about how that past can be used to forge a collective vision of the future. It is a tale that continues to unfold.


I would like to acknowledge Pamela Simpson's professionalism, acumen, and generosity, without which this article would not have been possible. We met when I was in graduate school and Simpson was a distinguished scholar. We shared a love for unusual art, and one result is the article published here, which was coauthored by the two of us between 2009 and 2011. The first manifestation of it was presented at a symposium organized by the historian, Ethan Schmidt, at Texas Tech University, titled When Indians Play Indian. I am grateful for several rounds of feedback that Schmidt provided to us on the essay as we expanded and improved it. I would also like to acknowledge Kirk Savage, Terry Smith, and Barbara McCloskey for insights that they provided while I was a student at the University of Pittsburgh. The people of Mitchell, South Dakota were also extremely helpful, including Mark Schilling and the other staff members at the Corn Palace as well as Lori Holmberg and her colleagues at the Dakota Discovery Museum. At the University of South Dakota, the art historian, John Day, was particularly generous with his time. Informed by feedback from the Southeastern College Art Conference Review, I refined and updated this article after Simpson's passing to clarify our ideas. I believe that the result reflects both of our intellectual intentions, but I take full responsibility for any errors.


(1.) Sioux City Journal, Oct. 5, 1887, 1.

(2.) For the broader history of the nineteenth century cereal palaces, see Pamela H. Simpson, "Turn-of-the-Century Midwestern Corn Festivals: Kiosks and Crop Art as American Icons," Arris 14 (2003): 1-15; --, "Cereal Architecture: Late-Nineteenth-Century Grain Palaces and Crop Art," in Building Environments: Perspectives in Vernacular Architecture, Volume X, ed. Kenneth A. Breisch and Alison K. Hoagland (Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 2005), 269-82; Ruth S. Beitz, "Sioux City's Splendid Corn Palaces," The Iowan Magazine 9:3 (Feb.-March 1961): 18-19; John Ely Briggs, "The Sioux City Corn Palaces," The Palimpsest 44:12 (1963): 549-62; Cynthia Elyce Rubin, "The Midwestern Corn Palaces: A 'Maize' of Detail and Wonder," The Clarion (1983): 24-31; Dorothy Schwieder and Patricia Swanson, "The Sioux City Corn Palaces," Annals of Iowa 41:8 (Spring 1973): 1209-1227. Travis Nygard and Pamela Simpson, "Indians at the Corn Palaces, Race and Reception at Two Midwestern Festival Buildings," Buildings & Landscapes: Journal of the Vernacular Architecture Forum, 17:1 (2010): 35-52; Rod Evans, Palaces on the Prairie (Fargo, ND: North Dakota Institute for Regional Studies, North Dakota State University, 2009); and Pamela H. Simpson, Corn Palaces and Butter Queens: A History of Crop Art and Dairy Sculpture (Minneapolis: University of Minn. Press, 2012).

(3.) Thirty-four are covered in Rod Evans, Palaces on the Prairie, which does not include one that we discuss in this chapter, the Kaffir Corn Palace.

(4.) Philip Deloria, Playing Indian (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1998).

(5.) Van Wyck Brooks, "On Creating a Usable Past," The Dial, April 11, 1918, 337-341.

(6.) Sioux City Journal, Oct 5, 1887, 1.

(7.) Terra nullius was the phrase used to describe territory where indigenous people lived that was deemed to be owned by no one, thus being suitable for settlement by outsiders. For a recent treatment of terra nullius, see Robert J. Miller, Native America, Discovered and Conquered: Thomas Jefferson, Lewis & Clark, and Manifest Destiny (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2008), 2, 21-23, 27-28, 56.

(8.) Frank Pommersheim, Broken Ground and Flowing Water (Rosebud, SD: Sinte Gleska College Press, 1977).

(9.) Information on the Gregory Registration Office is in the collection of the Mitchell Area Historical Society, Corn Palace series, Other Corn and Grain Palaces folder.

(10.) Sioux City Journal, September 17, 1887, 6; October 5, 1887, 1.

(11.) Quotations are from Sioux City Journal, Oct. 9, 1887, 1

(12.) Lester G. Moses, Wild West Shows and the Images of American Indians: 1883-1933 (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1996), 103.

(13.) Moses, Wild West Shows, 210-211.

(14.) Such Indian adaptation of agricultural festivals for their own purposes should not be surprising, given that this is an era in which identity and forms of entertainment were being rethought in profound ways. See the essays on British culture, for example, in Eric J. Hobsbawm, and Terence O. Ranger, eds. The Invention of Tradition (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1983). In the case of Native American culture, powwows are one such example. Although powwows have roots in longstanding traditions, they took on their modern form in the late nineteenth century. A cottage industry also arose, particularly in the upper Midwest, through which Native women made beaded garments and objects for the Wild West Shows, Red Men's fraternal lodges, and entertainment fairs. Much of the "traditional" clothing from the upper plains displayed in ethnographic and art museums today was made in the late nineteenth century for these purposes. For a discussion of Plains Indian identity at this time, including the status of vaguely-provenanced museum objects, see Marsha C. Bol, "Defining Lakota Tourist Art, 1880-1915," in Unpacking Culture: Art and Commodity in Colonial and Postcolonial Worlds, ed. Ruth B. Phillips and Christopher Burghard Steiner (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1999), 214-28.

(15.) Prince of Wied Maximilian, Maximilian, Prince of Wied's Travels in the Interior of North America, 1832-1834, ed. Reuben Gold Thwaites, trans. Hannibal Evans Lloyd, vol. 22-25, Early Western Travels, 1748-1846 (Cleveland, OH: A.H. Clark Company, 1906, 1843), 275. A discussion of trade is included in Pekka Hamalainen, "The Rise and Fall of Plains Indian Horse Cultures," The Journal of American History 90:3 (2004): Available online from the History Cooperative, For reproductions of the ears, see the work of George F. Will and George E. Hyde, Corn among the Indians of the Upper Missouri (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1917, 1964).

(16.) For the standards required for winning at a corn show, see handbooks from the era, such as: M. L. Bowman, Corn Growing, Judging, Breeding, Feeding, Marketing (Waterloo, IA: Waterloo Publishing Company, 1915); P. J. Olson and Ernest Gordon Booth, Selecting Show Corn in North Dakota (Fargo: North Dakota Agricultural College, 1931).

(17.) On parching and boiling see Henry Agard Wallace and William Lacy Brown, Corn and Its Early Fathers (East Lansing: Michigan State University Press, 1956), 21-22.

(18.) For the history of Yellow Dent corn, one good source is Betty Fuseli, "In the Name of Divine Progress" in The Story of Corn (New York: Knopf, 1992), 67-75.

(19.) A nearly-full run of seed catalogs was donated by the Will family to the Institute for Regional Studies at North Dakota State University.

(20.) Tulsa Democrat, "Indian Youths as Apt Farmers," Article reprinted in The Carlisle Arrow: A Weekly Letter to Our People, December 5, 1913, 2.

(21.) Tulsa Democrat, "Squaw Corn, the Original Cereal," Article reprinted in The Carlisle Arrow: A Weekly Letter to Our People, December 5, 1913, 1.

(22.) Oscar Howe's comments were made as part of a debate with the curators at the Philbrook Museum of Art that focused on whether it was generally good for Native American artists to embrace abstraction. Howe said yes. Specifically, his abstract art had been refused from an exhibition at the Philbrook, and he was protesting the normative view of the institution's staff. By today's standards Howe's fine art may seem tastefully restrained. It is, after all, typified by small-scale work on paper, and much of it focuses on traditional Nakota subject matter. Nonetheless, he is celebrated within American art history as a rebellious innovator, who passionately defended the use of abstraction within Native art communities. It was Howe, indeed, who blazed a trail that has culminated in highly innovative, conceptual, Native art in the twenty-first century. Howe's story of protest has become part of the master narrative of Native American art-making in the twentieth-century, and it has been repeated by several scholars. Janet Catherine Berio and Ruth B. Phillips, Native North American Art (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998), 221; Mark Andrew White, "Oscar Howe and the Transformation of Native American Art," American Indian Art Magazine 23:1 (Winter 1997): 36-43; Bill Anthes, Native Moderns: American Indian Painting, 1940-1960 (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2006), 159-161; and Edward Welch, "Distinctly Oscar Howe: Life, Art, Stories." (PhD Dissertation, University of Arizona, Tucson, 2011), 120-130.

(23.) Jim Hunt, The Pioneer Town of Firesteel (Mitchell, SD: Mitchell Area Historical Society, 1991).

(24.) Mitchell Gazette, "The Corn Palace as a Pioneer," (1933): 4.

(25.) Ibid.

(26.) The quote was given in the context of dedicating a new Davison County Courthouse. Mitchell Gazette, "New Court House Is Officially Dedicated in Labor Day Exercises," September 9, 1937, 1, 3.

(27.) The archeological site at Mitchell is number 39DV2. Bibliography on it includes writing by Laurence W. Robinson, "Arikaras Were First Residents of What Is Now City of Mitchell," March 10, 1956; clipping from an unknown newspaper in the collection of the Mitchell Area Historical Society, Prehistorical Indian Village folder, Federal Writer's Project, "Mitchell, South Dakota: An Industrial and Recreational Guide," (Works Progress Administration, and the Mitchell Chamber of Commerce, 1938), 29-30; E.E. Meleen and William H. Over, "A Preliminary Report of Mitchell Indian Village and Burial Mounds," Archeological Studies Circular, University of South Dakota Museum, Vermillion, 2 (1938).

(28.) The Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara Nation, also known as the Three Affiliated Tribes, maintains a website containing historical information: The settlement in Mitchell is on the National Register of Historic Places and is a National Historic Landmark. A museum and archaeological field school is located there, and there is a website devoted to it: http://

(29.) For a history of Oscar Howe at the Mitchell Corn Palace, see Travis E. Nygard, "Oscar Howe and the Metaphorical Monarchy of Maize: Indigenism and Power in the Mitchell Corn Palace Panels, 1948-1971," M.A. Thesis, University of Pittsburgh, 2005.

(30.) For material on Howe, see the Oscar Howe Archives in the Herman P. Chilson Collection of Western Americana in the I. D. Weeks Library at the University of South Dakota, Vermillion, and the Dakota Discovery Museum, which houses the Oscar Howe Gallery in Mitchell, SD; see also Frederick J. Dockstader, ed., Oscar Howe: A Retrospective Exhibition: Catalogue Raisonne (Tulsa: Thomas Gilcrease Museum Assoc., 1982); John R. Milton, Oscar Howe, (Minneapolis: Dillon, 1972); Robert Pennington, Oscar Howe: Artist of the Sioux (Sioux Falls, SD: Dakota Territory Centennial Commission, 1961); Mark White, "Oscar Howe and the Transformation of Native American Art," American Indian Art Magazine 23:1 (1997): 36-43, and Edward Welch, Distinctly Oscar Howe: Life, Art, Stories (PhD Dissertation, University of Arizona, Tucson, 2011). Forthcoming scholarship on Howe includes a biography by the art historian, John Day. On Dorothy Dunn's endeavors, see Bruce Bernstein and W. Jackson Rushing, Modern by Tradition: American Indian Painting in the Studio Style (Santa Fe, NM: Museum of New Mexico Press, 1995); Anthes, Native Moderns.

(31.) Oscar Howe's other major mural cycle was commissioned for the municipal auditorium in Mobridge, South Dakota. Julius Skaug, The Mobridge Murals: Mobridge Municipal Auditorium (Mobridge, SD: Mobridge Tribune, after 1951).

(32.) Mitchell Gazette, "Missouri River Plan Outlined," May 11, 1933, 1.

(33.) Howe, "Indian Designer Makes Statement," Mitchell Gazette, Sept. 16, 1948, 1. Later, in 1977, Oscar Howe was asked by the of the Institute of American Indian Studies' South Dakota Oral History Project to compose a series of questions about his life and work and then to answer those questions. One of the questions that he wrote focused on the Corn Palace, and he noted that he had wanted to design panels for it for ten years before he was hired. Oscar Howe interviewed by Oscar Howe, July 12, 1977. Research data obtained through the archives of the South Dakota Oral History Center, Institute of American Indian Studies, University of South Dakota, Vermillion, SD. American Indian Research Project Collection, Tape 1044.

(34.) "Corn Palace Decorations," in The 1948 Corn Palace Revue, program from festival held in Mitchell, SD, Sept. 20-25, 1948, Mitchell Area Historical Society archives, Carnegie Research Center, Corn Palace Collection. Howe wrote a more complete account of the origin of corn story to accompany a painting with the same theme, now owned by Nebraska City: "Story by Artist from Sioux Indian Tribe: Origin of Corn--A Sioux Indian Legend" (n.d.), typed statement available in the City Hall in Nebraska City. The Nebraska City Origin of Corn painting was listed on Howe's resume as a mural, but it is actually a large framed oil painting. The watercolor sketch for it was published by Marsha V. Gallagher, "Oscar Howe," in Fifty Favorites from Joslyn Art Museum (Omaha: Joslyn Art Museum, 1994). The Dakota origin of corn story is recounted by Garrick Mallery, Picture-Writing of the American Indians (New York: Dover, 1972), 290-291. He notes there are several versions of it. The one he reproduces states that a beautiful woman appeared to the Dakota and told them she was "the White-Buffalo-Cow" and that she would spill her milk all over the earth. She gave them four kernels of maize, one red, one black, one white, and one yellow, then disappeared over the hill where they followed to find a herd of buffalo.

(35.) This panel would have resounded well with the populace, as Howe's WPA mural in the dome of the Carnegie Library in Mitchell created in 1940 also focused on rain. George Agogino and Heidi Howe, "Oscar Howe, Sioux Artist," Institute of Indian Studies: Occasional Papers, 1 (1959).

(36.) "Corn Palace Decorations" In The 1948 Corn Palace Revue program.

(37.) Vine Deloria Jr., "Foreword," to Dammed Indians: The Pick-Sloan Plan and the Missouri River Sioux, 1944-1980 by Michael L. Lawson (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1982), xiv.

(38.) Van Wyck Brooks, "On Creating a Usable Past," The Dial, April 11, 1918, 341.

(39.) Margaret Quintal was also the director of the Oscar Howe Art Center and a personal acquaintance of Oscar Howe. She was quoted in Karen Iverson, "Murals of Oscar Howe Created in Corn Palace," Mitchell Daily Republic, 1981. For Quintal's understanding of Howe's art, see John A. Day, and Margaret Quintal, "Oscar Howe: Father of the New Native American Art," Southwest Art 14:1 (1984): 52-60.

(40.) The two Howe panels that were dismantled depicted cornucopias, and they were located where a design by Arthur Amiotte was installed. Iverson, "Murals of Oscar Howe Created in Corn Palace," clipping from unknown date in the collection of the Mitchell Area Historical Society, Mitchell, SD, Corn Palace series, 1980 folder. Karen Iverson, "Interior Corn Palace Murals Tribute to Artist Oscar Howe," Mitchell Daily Republic, September 19, 1981, clipping in the collection of the Mitchell Area Historical Society, Mitchell, SD, Corn Palace series, 1981 folder.

(41.) On Schultz's art and biography see Paula Guhin, The King of Corn, Cal Schultz: Having the Times of His Life (Aberdeen, SD: Prairie Home Press, 2002). Schultz was already experienced with the artistic medium of corn, having designed imagery for the Palace since 1975. "Artists Confer," August 22, 1980, clipping from unknown newspaper in the collection of the Mitchell Area Historical Society, Mitchell, SD, Corn Palace series, 1980 folder, "Howe Designs Theme of Murals," Mitchell Daily Republic 1980, clipping in the collection of the Mitchell Area Historical Society, Mitchell, SD, Corn Palace series, 1980 folder, Karen Iverson, "In Corn Palace-Dedication Held for Howe Murals," Mitchell Daily Republic, September 23, 1981, clipping from unknown date in the collection of the Mitchell Area Historical Society, Mitchell, SD, Corn Palace series, 1981 folder, Iverson, "Interior Corn Palace Murals Tribute to Artist Oscar Howe," clipping in the collection of the Mitchell Area Historical Society, Mitchell, SD, Corn Palace series, 1981 folder, Karen Iverson, "The inside Murals: A Tribute to Oscar Howe," Mitchell Daily Republic, September 17, 1982, B3.

(42.) The design for Amiotte's mural, and a description of it, was published by the Mitchell Daily Republic, "Corn Palace Mural," July 14, 1981, 6.

(43.) Writing about Arthur Amiotte's art includes: Janet Catherine Berio and Arthur Amiotte, Arthur Amiotte: Collages, 1988-2006 (Santa Fe, NM: Exhibition catalog from the Wheelwright Museum of the American Indian, 2006); John Day, ed., Arthur Amiotte, Retrospective Exhibition: Continuity and Diversity (Pine Ridge, SD: The Heritage Center, Inc. Red Cloud Indian School, 2001); Jennifer Vigil, "Drawing Past, Present and Future: The Legacy of the Plains Indian Graphic Tradition in the Works of Arthur Amiotte" (PhD Dissertation, University of Iowa, 2004). For Amiotte's relationship to Howe, see especially John Day's essay "Arthur Amiotte and Oscar Howe: Sympathy and Divergence," in Arthur Amiotte: Retrospective Exhibition, 19-24.

(44.) Quoted in Diane Rietman, "Creating the Murals: Schultz: Designer," Mitchell Daily Republic, September 18, 1982, B2.

(45.) Karen Iverson, "Murals of Oscar Howe Created in Corn Palace," Mitchell Daily Republic 1980, clipping from unknown date in the collection of the Mitchell Area Historical Society, Mitchell, SD, Corn Palace series, 1981 folder.

(46.) Valerie Milligan, "From Corn Field to Corn Palace," Mitchell Daily Republic 1991, newspaper clipping from an unknown date in the collection of the Mitchell Area Historical Society, Mitchell, SD, Corn Palace series, 1991 folder.

(47.) Dean Strand discussed his farming techniques, selective breeding, and seed-saving with Travis Nygard in an interview conducted during the summer of 2004.

(48.) Milligan, "From Corn Field to Corn Palace," newspaper clipping from an unknown date in the collection of the Mitchell Area Historical Society, Mitchell, SD, Corn Palace series, 1991 folder.

(49.) Kim Dohrer, "New Designs Selected for Corn Palace," Mitchell Daily Republic, July 1, 1991, 1. Upon reinstallation the design was altered by making the medallions larger, but the content and composition of those medallions has been unaltered.
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Date:Jan 1, 2013
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