Woodrow Wilson Crumbo

Woody Crumbo’s pieces on display in the Oklahoma Judicial Center reflect his passion for music and dance. As a young man, he developed close associations with the Kiowa tribe and in 1933, he was named keeper of their sacred flute. The Kiowa flute is made from cedar representing purity of spirit. The four upper holes of the flute symbolize the four directions of the wind. The carved bird at the end of the instrument sends forth the flute’s song for the world. An accomplished musician, Crumbo toured the country with Native dancers and musicians in 1932, playing the flute in more than 80 symphonic concerts. Crumbo also excelled as a dancer and in 1935, he won a national dance competition.

Crumbo was the last of eleven children born into his family. His mother, Mary Ann Hurd Crumbo was a member of the Potawatomi tribe. Knowing her son was special, she named him for the soon-to-be 28th President of the United States. Mary did not live to see her son’s achievements, she died in the Spanish influenza epidemic of 1919. Crumbo’s father died soon after, leaving him an orphan. Rather than being sent to an orphanage, Crumbo set out on his own, doing farm work for room and board.

At 16, he returned to school, attending the government boarding school at Chilocco. He excelled and received a scholarship to the American Indian Institute in Wichita, Kansas. Crumbo graduated from there in 1933 and went on to Wichita University where he studied mural arts with Olaf Nordmark and watercolor painting with Clayton Staples. In 1936, he transferred to the University of Oklahoma and studied with Oscar Jacobson, see page 130. He left before finishing his degree to become art director of Bacone College in 1938.

During World War II, Crumbo worked for the Douglas Aircraft Company in Tulsa. He was later artist-in-residence at Tulsa’s Gilcrease Museum. He also served as curator of the El Paso Art Museum during the 1960s. In 1973, Crumbo moved his family back to Oklahoma, devoting himself to art fulltime. In his later years, he moved to New Mexico, opening a gallery in Cimarron.

Crumbo’s work can also be seen in the National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C., the San Francisco Museum of Art, and the Gilcrease and Philbrook Museums in Tulsa. Through Crumbo is renowned for his silk screens, his pieces in the Oklahoma Judicial Center collection are rare original paintings. They are on permanent loan from the Oklahoma Historical Society.

Source: Oklahoma Today, Summer 1958, Spring 1977, November-December 1984; Perry, Robert, Uprising: Woody Crumbo's Indian Art, Chickasaw Press, 2009, Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture.