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Gathering Corn / Norma Howard

Essay/Description

Norma Howard (Choctaw, Chickasaw), a self-taught artist from Oklahoma, is widely recognized for her touching family scenes, and her subjects often include women and children engaged in everyday activities. Howard’s style is reminiscent of pointillism, except that she achieves her effects through the repetition of small, weave-like, painterly strokes rather than dots.

“I began drawing when I was five years old and created my first watercolor at age thirteen. I developed a style and technique of my own in watercolor called ‘basket weave’ strokes. Painting layer upon layer of small, cross-hatched strokes creates a unique, three-dimensional effect in my artwork. As a self-taught artist, I find inspiration to paint from family stories, traditional dances and our native lifestyle.”1
—Norma Howard

In this painting, Howard portrays a Choctaw family by moonlight on a late-summer evening. The father places corn into a woven basket, and a boy in blue overalls holds the attention of the family dog. The mother wears a Choctaw cotton dress and an apron; she will place the corn she picks in the kishi (a Choctaw pack or burden basket) on her back. A little girl’s ponytail and lavender frock peek out from behind the mother’s skirt. Although the work is primarily carried out by the parents, the task is nonetheless a joyous family affair. The full moon provides ample light, and we can see from the rows of ripe cornstalks that the family will have an abundant harvest.

Corn is vitally important to Choctaw culture. For Choctaw people, it is directly related to their physical body, their spirit, and their connection to the land. According to oral history, while the Choctaw still lived in their ancestral homelands, two hunters were returning from a hunt when they came across an unfamiliar woman standing atop one of their village’s mounds. She said she was hungry and asked the hunters if they had any food. They did, and they shared some of their bounty with her before continuing to their village. When the hunters passed by the next day, the woman was gone, but she left a gift of corn. This is when the Choctaw began the shift from hunter-gatherers to an agricultural people. Mounds are sacred to the Choctaw: one origin story says that the Choctaw emerged from the earth through Nanih Waiya, an ancient mound in Mississippi. In the oral history, placing the corn on a village mound relates directly to physical creation and the Choctaw’s most sacred site.

—Jordan Poorman Cocker, Henry Luce Foundation Curatorial Scholar for Indigenous Painting Collection Research, 2021

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1 Howard, Visual Voices: Contemporary Chickasaw Art.

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Title(s): 
Gathering Corn
Creator(s): 
Norma Howard (Artist)
Culture: 
Native American; Choctaw, Chickasaw
Date: 
1998
Materials/Techniques: 
tempera on paper
Classification: 
Object Type: 
Accession No: 
02.1949
Previous Number(s): 
TL1998.94; 0227.1949
Department: 
Signed by hand in tempera, "Norma Howard 1998" in lower right on recto; Notes in the artist's hand; Inscribed, "Norma Howard 'Gathering Corn' "; Inscribed in gold ink, "Matted by artist" on verso.
Not On View

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