The people of Mobridge are again enjoying newly restored Oscar Howe murals. The murals were painted in 1942 and have since endured smoke and heat damage from a nearby fire as well as other damage over time. More than seventy years have passed since the murals were painted but they still remain historically and culturally significant today.
Oscar Howe was a Lakota Sioux artist that grew up in South Dakota. Howe was commissioned to design and paint the murals after the original artist backed out.
Officials say the murals began as part of a federal arts program under Roosevelt designed to stimulate the American economy during the war.
Howe’s 10 murals are titled “History Along the Missouri River” and “Ceremonies of the Sioux”.
Nicholas Ward assisted with the restoration. He says the paintings curiously portrayed material that was illegal at the time.
“At the time these murals were painted in 1942 the acts that are being depicted, which are ceremonial rites of the Sioux people, were outlawed. Because they were a sovereign nation these religious rites didn’t exist under our constitution, and so what seemed really interesting to me is that under a government funded program that these ceremonies, which would be at the time dubbed Pagan ceremonies, were able to be portrayed you know in this kind of beautiful, large monumental way,” says Ward.
Ward says Howe’s murals were damaged by a fire at a nearby dry-cleaners in the 50’s, and were showing signs of aging.
He says restoring the murals is important because they tell a visual story.
“They tell a story not often heard and definitely not often told from the perspective of a Native American culturally. They talk about the interaction between tribal people and people who were new immigrants to this land, and it also talks about the ceremonial practices of the Lakota people who are from that exact geographic area,” says Ward.
The Oscar Howe murals are located in the Scherr Howe Arena in the Mobridge Auditorium. Ward says the conservation and restoration took nearly three months to complete and was funded in part by the “Outside of Deadwood” fund, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the South Dakota Arts Council.