American Indian Art of Fritz Scholder

This painting by Fritz Scholder is oil on canvas , measures 40×30 inches is part of the Farhat Art Museum collection of the American Indian.

Fritz Scholder (1937 – 2005)
Born in Breckenridge, Minnesota, Fritz Scholder became a prominent Indian portrait, figure, and genre painter in Arizona. His father was part Indian, and Fritz Scholder chose to focus his art work on this part of his lineage and to express both an appreciation and disdain for Indian customs, traditions, and daily existence.

He studied at the University of Kansas, Wisconsin State University, and with Wayne Thiebaud at Sacramento College in California. He earned an Master of Fine Arts Degree from the University of Arizona. A long-time resident of Scottsdale, Arizona, he has filled a number of artist-in-residence positions including Dartmouth College and the Oklahoma Summer Arts Institute.

In his work, he frequently showed the harsh, realistic side of Indians’ lives and deaths including the affects of alcohol and other dissipations, but some of his depictions are humorous such as Indians on horseback carrying umbrellas. His brush-work is generally swift, and the tone often sombre and surreal. A major influence on his work was the contemporary British artist, Francis Bacon, from whom Scholder adapted ironic distortions into his canvases.

In Scottsdale, he lived in an adobe-walled oasis of palm trees and oleander, amid skulls and skeletons. In the garden, several of Mr. Scholder’s sculptures feature skull-like heads. In the library, an 18th-century skull engraved with witchcraft symbols shared shelf space with books printed before 1500. And the porch had been converted into a skull room, complete with Mexican Day of the Dead paraphernalia that spill from cabinets and rest on shelves and antique chairs.

In a “New York Times” interview, August 12, 2001, Scholder said that in spite of the death-related items with which he surrounds himself, “I consider myself a natural optimist which might be surprising, because I like the dark side of things. That’s simply because of intellectual curiosity. I celebrate each day. I truly wake up happy every morning.”

In appearance he was rather heavy set with shoulder-length hair and a radiant smile. He was shy and idiosyncratic including the driving of a gold 1979 Rolls-Royce fitted with tinted windows.

In his childhood, where he was the fifth sibling in a primarily German family, he showed a passion for collecting, which has dominated his largely autobiographical art. His career includes etchings, aquatints, lithographs, monotypes, photographs, collages, sculpture and mixed media, but he is best known for his paintings.

Fritz Scholder died February 10, 2005 at age 67 in Scottsdale, and a memorial service was held at the Heard Museum in Phoenix. He was married to Lisa Markgraf Fisher and had one son. In his artwork, death had been a constant preoccupation for Scholder. He said: “Death is completely fearful, a terrible violence that intrudes into what people believe. It’s not what I want to think about, but it’s there and is either the worst practical joke in creation or the fault of whoever made all this up.”

Sources include:
“Southwest Art”
Peggy and Harold Samuels, “Contemporary Western Artists”
Obituary, “The Arizona Republic”, February 12, 2005, A18

Biography from Mark Sublette Medicine Man Gallery Santa FeTucson:
A prolific painter, sculptor, lithographer, teacher, mentor and bookmaker; Fritz Scholder changed Native American art forever and didn’t even consider himself part of Native America. Born in 1937 in Breckenridge, Minnesota, Scholder’s grandmother was Luiseno, a California Mission tribe. But he was raised in North and South Dakota and Wisconsin. He knew from a very early age when he sold his first painting to a grade-school friend for four dollars that he wanted to be an artist.

Fritz finished his first year at Wisconsin State University when his father moved the family to Sacramento, California. This was an important event for Scholder’s future because he enrolled at Sacramento State University in 1957 where he studied with Wayne Thiebaud who introduced him to abstract expressionism and also gave him an opportunity to show his work to the public. The work he showed with Thiebaud, Gregory Kondos and Peter Vandenberg received excellent reviews. His next one-person exhibit was at the Crocker Art Museum in Sacramento.

In 1960 Scholder was granted a Rockefeller Foundation full scholarship for the Southwestern Indian Art Project at the University of Arizona. After receiving his Master of Fine Arts degree he moved to Santa Fe to teach painting and history at the newly formed Institute of American Indian Arts. This was another eye-opening experience for Fritz to see the anger and alienation the Native Americans were feeling. Even though he was one quarter Luiseno, he never lived on a reservation or around other Native Americans. So he had a unique perspective on the Native American experience. He tried to break long-standing clichés by doing a pop art series on unconventional subject matter in which he sought to deconstruct romantic images of Native America. Because the work was so controversial, he is sometimes considered a Postmodernist for his use of “mass-culture social commentary.”

After five years at IAIA he resigned and traveled to Europe and North Africa determined to make his living by doing his art. He then purchased a small home with a studio on Canyon Road in Santa Fe. In 1970 he was invited by the Tamarind Institute to do a large body of lithographs called Indians Forever. In the same year, he had his first one-man show at the Lee Nordness Galleries. He lectured at many universities and art conferences including Princeton and Dartmouth College and in 1972 was invited by the Smithsonian Institution to do a two-person show with T.C. Cannon.

In 1975 Fritz produced his first etchings through El Dorado Press in Berkeley, California. His etchings, lithographs and photographs became very successful, and he was featured at the Heard Museum, Oklahoma Art Institute and a documentary on PBS. From the 1970s on, his awards are many in addition to five honorary degrees from Ripon College, University of Arizona, Concordia College, The College of Santa Fe and the first honorary degree from the University of Wisconsin, Superior. A humanitarian Award from the 14th Norsk Hostfest followed. His love of teaching caused him to become a major influence on an entire generation of Native American artists and created the foundation of what is now known as contemporary American Indian art. Scholder died on February 10, 2005 at his home in Scottsdale, Arizona.

1. Whitney Gallery of Western Art, Buffalo Bill Hostorical Center
2. Leading the West, the Modern Vision, by Patricia Janis Broder
3. Harwood Art Museum
4. Autry National Center

Biography from American Design Ltd.:
Fritz Scholder was born in Breckenridge, Missouri. He was the fifth consecutive male of his family to bear this name. His paternal grandmother was a member of the Luiseño tribe of Mission Indians. Although Scholder did not consider himself an Indian, he was regarded by many as a leader of the New American Indian Art movement.

Throughout his childhood, the painter’s family moved frequently, living mostly in small towns in the Dakotas and Wisconsin. In the long winter evenings, young Fritz amused himself by drawing, an interest that was soon channeled into serious art study. The painter Oscar Howe, a Sioux Indian, introduced him to modern art while he was still in high school. In 1957, the family settled in Sacramento, where Scholder earned a Bachelor of Arts degree at Sacramento State University. At Sacramento, the painter Wayne Thiebaud exposed Scholder to the Pop Art movement. Thiebaud also arranged Scholder’s first solo exhibition.

After graduation, Scholder taught public school in Sacramento. In 1961, he won a scholarship to the Southwest Indian Art Project at the University of Arizona, where he earned a Master’s of Fine Arts degree.

From 1964 to 1969 he taught painting and art history at the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe, New Mexico. From the beginning, he struggled to represent the landscape and people of the Southwest without indulging in the romantic clichés of genre art on the Native themes. In time he created an extraordinary fusion of abstract expressionism, surrealism and pop art to expresss his unique vision of the Southwestern scene and the Native experience.

Early in his career, he received support from the Rockefeller, Whitney and Ford Foundations. After five years in Santa Fe, he retired from teaching to paint full-time. For the next few years he traveled in Europe and North Africa.

He added sculpture and printmaking to his activities, creating mixed media constructions, bronzes, lithographs, etchings and monotypes. From the beginning, he created works in series: women, landscapes, Indians, butterflies, cats, dogs, dreams, the Empire State Building, ancient Egypt.

Beginning in the late ’60s, Fritz Scholder was a guest artist or artist-in-residence at American University, Idyllwild School of Music and the Arts, the Oklahoma Arts Institute, Santa Fe institute of Fine Arts, and Dartmouth College. He received grants from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, as well as arts organizations in France and Germany.

Over a dozen books have been published on Fritz Scholder and his work, and he has been profiled in two documentaries for public television. In a single year, exhibitions of his work were seen in Japan, France, China, Germany and at the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, Russia. For many years, he maintained his primary residence in Scottsdale, Arizona.

He died in 2005 at the age of 67.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s