The Oscar Howe Project
The Performing Arts Center is the home of The Oscar Howe Project, which uses the tremendous gift of two paintings by Oscar Howe, Iktomi and Heyoka Dancer, as a springboard for student learning about literacy, visual art, and American Indian culture. Several self-contained lessons for K-12 students are available online to teachers and students in any community. These free lessons engage students with informational texts and primary source texts, critical thinking questions, and discussion-starters. The lessons are dual-aligned with state literacy standards and with Oceti Sakowin Essential Understandings and Standards, which contain essential learning about Dakota, Nakota, and Lakota culture.
The downloadable lessons were developed and field tested by Rapid City High School art and language teacher Gabrielle Seeley, who has extensive experience designing and delivering dual-aligned instruction. Through The Oscar Howe Project, students from any school in any community can learn about Oscar Howe, his artwork, and his culture.
Purpose & Scope
The following downloadable lessons linked to The Oscar Howe Project are not art lessons. Instead, these lessons use a significant, local installation of fine art as a catalyst to build students’ engagement with their school day and to create deeper understandings across disciplines. Their value proposition is that art is a way of making meaning and forging connections. Built on the principles of observation, reflection and original thinking, the lessons are designed to reach every student in different ways and to increase capacities for imagination and innovation.
The lessons address specific Common Core State Standards for language arts, although information from other content areas is included. Several of the lessons also address South Dakota Oceti Sakowin Essential Understandings and Standards, which contain essential learning about Lakota, Dakota, and Nakota culture.
Lesson Titles & Descriptions (With grade level ranges)
Oscar Howe’s Artistic Legacy (grades 6-12)
This lesson uses primary source documents to engage students in learning about Oscar Howe’s many personal and professional achievements. Students read informational text, think critically about it using open-ended questions, and prepare for meaningful discussion about overcoming obstacles using the enclosed graphic organizer.
Iktomi Stories (grades K-5)
Students read informational text and primary source text from Ella Deloria’s ethnographic work Dakota Texts to learn about Iktomi, the subject of an Oscar Howe painting installed at The Performing Arts Center of Rapid City.
The pairing of fine art from Howe, a Yanktonai Dakota artist, and Deloria, a scientist and writer from the same oyate, provides a strong opportunity for students to think about Iktomi and discuss the purposes Iktomi stories fulfill.
Heyokas, or Thunder Dreamers (grades 6-12)
In this lesson, students learn about Heyokas, or Thunder Dreamers, using two primary sources: Oscar Howe’s painting Heyoka Dancer and Luther Standing Bear’s writing. Students consider the serious purpose behind the humor Heyokas bring to gatherings. Critical thinking questions and a graphic organizer are included to spur student thinking.
Iktomi Stories (grades 6-12)
Students read informational text and primary source text from Ella Deloria’s ethnographic work Dakota Texts to learn about Iktomi, the subject of an Oscar Howe painting installed at The Performing Arts Center of Rapid City. The lesson uses the full free translation of “Iktomi Tricks the Pheasants” from Deloria’s book, rather than the adapted version in our K-5 lesson called “Iktomi, the Trickster.” Higher-level questions and a graphic organizer on ethics round out this lesson.
Color Theory with Oscar Howe (grades 9-12+)
This lesson employs a rare transcript of Oscar Howe teaching his students about color theory! This unique primary source document is combined with informational text and high-level critical thinking questions that engage students. An original graphic organizer is included that allows students to use Oscar Howe’s instructions to create their own color wheels and prepare for discussions.
The Oscar Howe paintings were given to the Performing Arts Center of Rapid City in 2014 by the Lee family in honor of Evelyn Dawson Park Lee and Margaret Lee. Evelyn was the drama teacher at Rapid City High School in the 1950s and 1960s. Margaret was a friend and supporter of Oscar Howe. She and Dr. Warren M. (Doc) Lee started the Black Hills Playhouse in Custer State Park, South Dakota in 1946.