Carl Sweezy (1879-1953) Wattan


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Artist Signature - Carl Sweezy (1879-1953) WattanCarl Sweezy (1879-1953) Wattan was a talented and influential Arapaho painter and ledger artist.  Sweezy was born in 1879 on old Cheyenne-Arapaho Reservation in Oklahoma.  His father was Hinan Ba Seth (Big Man) and his mother, unfortunately, died when he was very young.  Sweezy attended Mennonite Mission Schools in Oklahoma and Kansas. He also attended Chilocco and Carlisle Indian Schools.  Sweezy’s Indian name was Wattan, or “Black.” He was also known as “Waatina.” 

Jeanne Snodgrass’ American Indian Painters: A Biographical Directory describes how he came to be called “Sweezy” and how he initially began painting: “The artist’s older brother, while at the Mennonite school in Halstead, Kan., took the name of Fieldie Sweezy (Sweezy being the name of a railway agent there).  The other children of the family were given the same surname, and Wattan became Carl Sweezy. At 14, the artist returned from school to the reservation with a baseball, a hat, catcher’s mitt, and a box of newly-acquired watercolor paints, which a white woman at the agency had taught him to use.”

Sweezy, like many early Native artists, had a wide variety of jobs. These jobs included Indian Policeman, farmer, professional baseball player, informant to the Oklahoma Historical Society, and informant to Smithsonian Institute Anthropologist James Mooney.  The last job on this list was of great importance to Sweezy, because it was during and immediately after this time that he was most productive as an artist. Mooney’s influence was so strong that, for the remainder of his career, Sweezy described his painting style as “the Mooney Way.” 

In 1920, Sweezy was able to retire and focus entirely on painting for the final third of his life.  He exhibited and sold his works successfully during this period. His long list of notable exhibitions includes the American Indian Exposition, Philbrook Arts Center, and American Indian Week in Oklahoma; the Intertribal Indian Ceremonials in Gallup, and the Museum of the Plains Indian in Montana.  His works are included in the collections of the Smithsonian Institution, Chicago Natural History Museum, Gilcrease Institute, Museum of the American Indian, Oklahoma Historical Society Museum, Southwest Museum, and University of Oklahoma. Sweezy passed away on May 28, 1953 in Lawton, Oklahoma.

References: American Indian Painters: A Biographical Directory, Jeanne Snodgrass

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