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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
Fritz Scholder
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Fritz Scholder Interview

Native American Artist

June 29, 1996
Sun Valley, Idaho

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  Fritz Scholder

When was it that you first realized what you wanted to do?

Fritz Scholder: It's strange, but all kids draw. I never stopped. I was real shy, and all I wanted to do was stay in my room and draw, so I wouldn't have to deal with people. This, at the time, was difficult. But in retrospect, I always knew what I had to be. There was never any question. It was all that I could do. Plus, I was a rebel, right from the beginning. If someone told me to do something, I'd do the opposite. So I was, in a way, a bad boy in school, and yet, because I was reserved and because of my talent, I was treated pretty nicely, I must say. I sold my first painting in grade school to a friend of mine for four dollars. And I sold my second painting to a grade school buddy for five dollars and slowly worked up from there.

[ Key to Success ] Passion

Was there anybody in your family or maybe a teacher that was especially encouraging?

Fritz Scholder Interview Photo
Fritz Scholder: My father was a super sportsman. He was champion golfer of North Dakota, champion tennis player, bowler. He'd go out and get his limit on any game during the season. And all his only son wanted to do was be an artist.

My mother was very creative. She was from Oklahoma and we teased her, and called her an Okie. She would have theme dinners every night. Monday night was Italian, we'd have spaghetti and meatballs. Tuesday, Chinese, of course, chow mein. But in the midwest you kind of have to entertain yourself.

When the governor of North Dakota invited me back years later, for dinner in my honor at the capital, I knew that I had to say something good about North Dakota. I really wasn't sure what I would say. When I got up, I simply said, "I'm so pleased that I grew up in North Dakota, because it made me tough." And it did.

Was there a teacher, an art teacher, or anyone else at school who particularly encouraged you?

Fritz Scholder: Yes and no.

You have to realize that at times art was really pretty foreign. For most people, an artist meant going to Paris and starving in a garret. No one was making a living in this country, except for Georgia O'Keeffe and Thomas Hart Benton. And so, what one did was to get degrees and teach at a university, and if you were good, you might be able to get an artist-in-residency. So, it was pretty bleak to think that you could be an artist. Although I, right from the beginning, identified as that, and won my first prize in fourth grade.

[ Key to Success ] Perseverance

They were nice enough, but they didn't know what art was. I did finally, accidentally, bump into a "professional artist" -- quotations -- an Indian artist, Oscar Howe -- in Pierre, South Dakota. A full-blooded Sioux, who had gone to Europe because of the war, found out about "modern art" -- quotations -- and it really messed up his mind in a way, but he did come away doing Indian subjects in a cubist style. I realized that art is very serious from him. After he would talk to us -- and he wasn't really a teacher, he just happened to be at the Pierre High School -- he'd have a place in the corner where he'd go and then paint his own paintings. So I would go and just watch, and I saw that it was very serious.

[ Key to Success ] Preparation

Fritz Scholder Interview Photo
Did you have any heroes when you were young who inspired you?

Fritz Scholder: Well, I had many heroes early on -- Picasso and Goya and Matisse and Bonnard. To me, it was so interesting to see the many different styles that are viable in painting, and painting is my first love. I am also a sculptor and printmaker, and bookmaker, but painting was what I really wanted to do. So there were many influences. Francis Bacon later became a hero of mine.

If you talked to a young person who was interested in going into the fine arts, is there a book that you could recommend?

Fritz Scholder: There is a book that just recently came out that I think is the definitive book on modern art. So many people wonder about modern art and there's been tons of books, but none of them are very good. This is called, Art Today, very easy to remember, by Edward Lucie-Smith. He's really done his research. It deals with the last three decades of modern art all over the world. He chose 600 artists only, living and dead, but they're the artists who really should be in the book. Most of the so-called definitive books are pretty worthless, this is a good one.

As far as the lifestyle of an artist goes, probably Françoise Gilot's book, My Life With Picasso is considered the best account of how an artist lives. It's a very interesting book. Picasso would paint way into the night. He'd wake up at two in the afternoon, and he always woke up grumpy. She had to be there when he woke up and hear the same litany every day. "Oh, I feel terrible! It's a terrible day. I have no friends. Matisse hasn't written to me." And he would go down the line.

She'd sit there quietly until he was through, then she would say, "Pablo, you look great and I just saw the paintings you did last night and they're great, and there's a letter from Matisse right on the table over there, and the day is beautiful." Finally, a little smile would come on his face. "Well, I think I'd better get up and do something."

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