Press Release

Release Date: May 12, 2017

by Gene Lehmann



  • Benjamin Harjo Jr., acclaimed as the “Picasso of Indian art,” visits with a friend during the 2016 Artesian Arts Festival in Sulphur, Oklahoma. Harjo will show works again this year during the fourth annual festival which kicks off May 27.

  • "Coyote and Creator Compete to Make Man," gouache, 27" x 20" by Benjamin Harjo Jr.

  • "Letting Go," pen and ink, 5" x 11.5" by Benjamin Harjo Jr.

OKLAHOMA CITY – Acclaimed as the “Picasso of Indian Art,” Benjamin Harjo, Jr. will mark his second appearance at the Artesian Arts Festival May 27 in Sulphur, Oklahoma.

Harjo, considered one of the nation’s leading American Indian artists, enjoys meeting young Indian artists just beginning their careers.

“The younger artists coming up need encouragement,” he said. “When I was a young artist, I received encouragement from the older artists when I was starting out. We’ve got to have our replacements. If we can continue to encourage the younger artists to build on that strength, I think that is very important.”

At 71, Harjo is extraordinarily busy with commissioned works, arts festivals and a passion to see his alma mater – Oklahoma State University – complete its first museum of art that will house works by Harjo and many esteemed artists.

He considers the crowning achievements of his life as induction to the Oklahoma State University Distinguished Alumni Hall of Fame in 2012 and a major exhibition of his work at the Wheelwright Museum of the American Indian in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

In late 2004 and into 2005, the museum featured the first major retrospective of Harjo’s imaginative creations.

The show, titled “The Earth, the Moon, and the Stars Above” featured more than 60 paintings, monotypes, woodcuts and miniatures by Harjo, an Absentee Shawnee citizen with ample Seminole heritage as well. The Wheelwright Museum also published a full-color, 50-page catalog featuring Harjo’s work in differing mediums.

ALL HE WISHED

“It’s the only thing I ever wanted to be – an artist,” Harjo said while reflecting back on a 30-plus year career. Harjo’s wish was granted. His work is in permanent collections at the most prestigious locations nationwide. His artwork has also been shown in Europe and Asia.

He laughs about the beginning of his career. “Despite my father’s objections I would never make a living at it, he was proud of me before he passed on. He got to see me working – and surviving – as an artist. And, he saw some of the recognition that went with it,” Harjo recalled.

He credits much of his success to his wife, Barbara, who pays the bills on time.

“Most artists aren’t very good at math,” the soft-spoken artist pointed out before breaking out in laughter. “It is good to have someone managing the business side of the operation.”

Harjo reflected on the phenomenal growth of the Artesian Arts Festival and the quality of artists it attracts in deciding to forgo a festival in New Mexico in favor of spending a day in Sulphur, Oklahoma.

“The crowds have really been growing and supporting the artists that come to it. When you see artists you know and respect, there is something exciting happening,” Harjo said.

The first Artesian Arts Festival hosted by the Chickasaw Nation was in 2014 and 34 artists attended. This year, 116 Native artists, representing 25 tribes from nine states – including one from Canada – will bring their best works for Indian art aficionados.

ONE OF THE BEST

Harjo’s resume includes art on permanent display at Gilcrease Museum, National Museum of the American Indian at the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C., Red Earth Center, Wheelwright Museum of the American Indian and Fred E. Brown Collection at the Oklahoma Museum of Natural History.

His signature piece for the Artesian Arts Festival is a graphite “hawk,” thus far untitled.

“I am saying it’s a hawk and not a parrot,” Harjo joked. “I am blending and shading pencil lines. When it’s finished, I’ll have it matted and framed.”

The piece sprang to life at the Wheelwright Museum approximately two months ago. Harjo was demonstrating his techniques at the museum and did not have time to complete it.

Art collectors consider Harjo one of the most important American Indian artists in the nation. Honors bestowed on him are extensive, including being named the 2009 Oklahoma Living Treasure by the OU Health Center Foundation and the 2003 Honored One at the 17th Annual Red Earth Festival. His work has been judged Best of Show at the Southwest American Indian Art Institute (SWAIA) art show and market in New Mexico.

NOW SHOWING

Currently, two exhibits are underway featuring Harjo’s art. The Heard Museum of Native Cultures and Art is a private, not-for-profit museum located in Phoenix, Arizona, dedicated to the sensitive and accurate portrayal of Native arts and cultures.

Additionally, Harjo and seven other Native artists, have presentations at the Norick Arts Center on the Oklahoma City University campus.

Trained at the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe and earning a Bachelor of Fine Arts from OSU in 1974, Harjo is dedicating himself to seeing an art museum come to fruition at OSU. He serves on a committee planning the museum. It is currently in the concept stage.

“OSU President Burns Hargis is the driving force to develop the museum,” Harjo said. “Oklahoma State is preparing for a museum that will be on par with OU (the University of Oklahoma),” Harjo said. “Of course OU has a tremendous collection of art. So does OSU. It doesn’t have a place to showcase it. I am honored to help it get going,” he said.

When completed, Harjo pledged to contribute art to OSU’s permanent collection.

About The Artesian Arts Festival

Hosted by the Chickasaw Nation at the Artesian Plaza, more than 100 esteemed artists representing 25 Native American tribes throughout the United States and Canada will be featured during the Artesian Arts Festival, Saturday, May 27. The Artesian Plaza is located adjacent to the Artesian Hotel and Spa, 1001 W. First Street. Festivities begin at 10 a.m. and end at 6 p.m.

For more information, contact the Chickasaw Nation Division of Arts & Humanities at (580) 272-5520, or by email at artistinfo@chickasaw.net.

Last Updated: 09/16/2016