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If you like Fritz Scholder's story, you might also like:
J. Carter Brown,
Dale Chihuly,
Chuck Jones,
Maya Lin,
N. Scott Momaday,
Wayne Thiebaud
and James Rosenquist

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Fritz Scholder
Indian/Not Indian

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Fritz Scholder
Fritz Scholder
Profile of Fritz Scholder Biography of Fritz Scholder Interview with Fritz Scholder Fritz Scholder Photo Gallery

Fritz Scholder Biography

Native American Artist

Fritz Scholder Date of birth: October 6, 1937
Date of death: February 10, 2005

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  Fritz Scholder

Fritz Scholder Biography Photo
Fritz Scholder was born in Breckenridge, Minnesota. 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.

Fritz Scholder Biography Photo
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.

Fritz Scholder Biography Photo
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. For many years, he maintained his primary residence in Scottsdale, Arizona.

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.

Fritz Scholder died in 2005 at the age of 67. Since his death, interest in his work has continued to grow. In 2008, the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of the American Indian mounted a career retrospective of his work, with exhibitions in both New York City and Washington, D.C.

Fritz Scholder made the following remarks on May 11, 2002, in a commencement address for the College of Fine Arts at the University of Oklahoma.

Fritz Scholder Biography Photo
I had packed my suitcase the night before. So, early on the morning of September 11, I was dressed, waiting for a car and driver to take me to the airport. I had a ticket to Washington, DC, where the next day I was scheduled to meet President and Mrs. Bush at a White House reception for artists. It was the Millennium Project: Gift to the Nation.

I had not turned on the television that morning. The car arrived and we headed down the street. A few minutes later, I asked the driver to turn on the radio and we heard the news. We turned around and headed back to my house.

For the next three hours, I sat in front of my television. I saw the most horrific and surreal images in real time over and over and then I turned it off. Any more looking, for me, would be masochistic. I had to make myself happy. I went to a movie.

That helped a bit.

I then realized that a new Bob Dylan CD was coming out that day. So I bought it and returned to my studio. It was good, but depressing, so I went to the market and bought some orchids. That afternoon, I started a Flowers Series of paintings.

I am still painting flowers.

Fritz Scholder Biography Photo
I tell you this story regarding my personal reaction to September 11, for I am a natural optimist and on that day, which has changed everyone in the world forever, I had to produce something civilized and universal with classic form and pure color.

Attitude and approach will color you life. For me, it is the act of producing a work, which hopefully will outlast me and will be seen by my grandson years later.

Picasso once said, "Art is a lie, which forces one to realize truth." Gertrude Stein, the famous art patron, asked Picasso to paint her portrait. When he showed it to her, she said, "That doesn't look like me." Picasso replied, "It will."

Art and religion are the two constants in these strange days of terror. The artist as shaman is more important than ever.

You must be yourself on purpose. First, find out who you are and fully accept it. Fall in love with your life and live your life with finesse and manners. Be a role model for yourself, and many will be influenced. To truly keep something, you must give away.

Fritz Scholder Biography Photo
Remember the paradox. Beware of progress, a myth made false by the true lies and factoids of our history. Like the Greek mask of tragedy, man's excellence is equal to his most tragic flaws. Are we the best and brightest, watching our planet dimming? The cybernetic age challenges each of us. The digital landscape quakes. Overpopulation and disease run rampant. The battle has begun between the shaman/artist and the cyber/technocrat. We are living at a place of crucifixion in a crossroad of time. Opposites cross. Polarities collide. Industry and technology have succeeded for two centuries by moving in complete indifference and denial toward nature.

Reinvent yourself with every day. Each day can be a new adventure in your quest for truth.

Discover yourself. Travel. Sensibilities change dramatically by placing yourself in a new location; an unknown street in your own home town or in front of the Sphinx. Learn to write well. Learn to read well. Learn to listen and speak well. Keep a record of your time. Learn the rules, so that you know which ones to break. Remember, freedom is not free. To be free rests in our ability to mold our thoughts. Learn responsibility. Establish priorities. Learn your strengths and especially your weaknesses. Know what you want from life so that you may attain it.

Banish greed and help your friends, town and country. Be more thoughtful, understanding and kind. We are all in this together. And do all of this with love and intelligence and most of all with passion.

Learn more about Fritz Scholder and his work at:

The National Museum of the American Indian produced the film Fritz Scholder: Indian/Not Indian, exploring the life and work of this great American artist. The film includes excerpts from the Academy of Achievement's exclusive interview with Fritz Scholder. The film received the Gold Medal of the American Association of Museums at the Association's 2009 MUSE Awards.

This page last revised on May 25, 2011 15:17 EDT
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