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NORMA HOWARD - CHOCTAW ARTIST
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Howard, Norma - Four Painters Site
Norma Howard never felt the desire to move to the big city. She found her place as an artist in Stigler, Oklahoma, 42 miles
southeast of Muskogee, and remarkably has ventured more than three miles from home only a few times in her life. "I can look
behind my house and see where I was born and see where we buried our relatives. I can't leave my homeland," she says.
Given the importance of family in her life, it is not surprising that her meticulous watercolor paintings predominantly
portray scenes of her homeland, her family and the historic lifeways of her people. "My family worked hard for what they have,"
she explains. "And a person is judged on how they handle their hardship. It's important that you remember to take care of
your family. My mother and father showed me how they loved me-by being home with the family. I'm also home every day, and
I show my love to my family that way."
Howard began drawing from her heart as a little child when her father bought her a box of crayons. "I didn't know what
Indian art was when I was a kid," she says. "I started drawing on paper bags. I drew what I saw around me-sun, hills, flowers,
water and houses." She also spent time with her grandmother, Lena Gibson Morris, whom they called Ipokni, a Choctaw basketmaker
who wove plaited baskets from river cane. In 1903, Grandma Ipokni walked 500 miles from Mississippi to Oklahoma to homestead
the land where Howard was born and raised. The artist speaks lovingly of her grandma's basketry. "Her favorite designs were
diamonds, for diamondback rattlesnakes. Rattlesnakes are calm when undisturbed, but defend themselves when threatened." Ipokni's
baskets were a source of inspiration for Howard, who later painted with "basketweave strokes," creating a unique style.
Her late Chickasaw father, James Williams, also encouraged his daughter's creativity. "My dad thought anything I touched was
magic. He loved beauty. He was a house painter. He let me paint window frames. He taught me to go with the grain. When I painted
my doll houses, he advised me, 'Whatever you do, do it the best you can do.'" Her father's advice helped Howard and her seven
siblings succeed in life. More inspiration came from her mother, Edith Morris Williams, who told old-time Choctaw stories
passed down from her mother. Both she and Ipokni were also master seamstresses and quiltmakers. "Mom sewed all our clothes,"
Howard recalls. "She made my dresses on an old pedal sewing machine."
At the age of 21, Howard herself was sewing for a living-cowboy shirts in a clothing factory. "They said Hank Williams,
Jr. used to wear our shirts. In 1994, the company shut down and moved to Mexico. I was out of work. I felt hurt. I was lost."
Shortly thereafter, she had a dream and woke up in the middle of the night. "I heard my dad saying, 'You gotta paint!' My
husband, David, said that was a good idea. I thought maybe I could put a little food on the table. I started painting little
She sold a few pieces and kept painting steadily for a year. "In 1995, when I completed 34 paintings, I decided to show
my work at the upcoming Red Earth Festival. My husband told everyone, and they put me on the front page of the paper. I was
so embarrassed. I worried; what if I go back home without selling even one painting? On the way to the show, our car broke
down. I told my husband, 'Let's just go home. It wasn't meant to be.' My husband said, 'We've come this far, we're going!'
We entered one of my paintings in the competition. At the awards ceremony, they announced third prize, then second prize.
Finally, they said the first-prize winner and called out my name! I was in tears. I sold all 34 of my paintings. That night
we ate steak at the Golden Corral."
In 1997, Howard first showed her paintings at Indian Market in Santa Fe and won a minor ribbon, but four years later at the
same event, she took the "Best of Paintings" award. She also won a ribbon the first year she showed at the Heard Museum Indian
Fair & Market in Phoenix, in 1999, and she is looking forward to coming back this year. Her work is selling steadily,
collectors covet it and museum exhibitions can't be far off.
Yet, Howard has not forgotten her humble roots. She advises young Indian artists, "Paint and draw what you like, but never
forget your family. Don't forget your ancestors' way of life, your dances, your songs and your stories. But if you do forget
them, at least remember that you're still an Indian no matter what! For me, painting is my soul. The part of me that is shy
sees beauty in the heart. I express it with my hands. I just wish my mother and father could have lived to see me make it
in the art world."
Norma Howard will show her work at the 2005 Heard Museum Guild Indian Fair & Market. She can be reached at her studio/home
in Stigler, Oklahoma, at 918/967-4314. Her work is also carried by Blue Rain Gallery of Santa Fe and Taos.
above top: "Quilting," ©2003, 16" x 20", watercolor; above left: "Morning Mist," ©2004, 22" x 26" framed, watercolor;
above right: detail of "Gathering Wood," ©2004, 12" x 16", watercolor.
Howard, Rt. 2 Box 1687, Stigler, OK 74462
about signed prints 1-800-256-9013
Click on the following links to learn more about the life and art of Norma Howard, Choctaw artist...
Howard, Norma Images
Howard, Norma - Blue Rain Gallery
Howard, Norma - Four Painters Site
Norma Howard - Newsok article "Family's Past has Meaning for Busy Artist" by Sharon Johnson
Norma Howard - Book Illustrator
Howard, Norma - Painting (photo)