Eight Original Paintings by Carl Sweezy

December 18, 2018 until February 08, 2019

Carl Sweezy (1879-1953)
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.”

Sweezy’s style was, as one would expect, informed by Plains hide painting and ledger art, which was flourishing during his early life.  He created ledger art, drawings with various media in the ledger art style, and painted portraits, but he is best known today for his excellent watercolor paintings.  His preferred subjects are typical of Native painters from his period: ceremonial dancers, religious functions, hunt scenes, and warriors on horseback. While his influences and subjects are similar to those of his peers, his style is most atypical.  His paintings are loose, wild, and exciting. They are full of color, energy and life while remaining ethnographically accurate. His roots as a ledger artist are evident, to varying degrees, in the majority of his paintings.

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.

We are pleased to present a collection of eight fantastic original paintings by Carl Sweezy. These paintings were originally obtained from Sweezy by European artist and professor Oscar Jacobson. Jacobson worked with, supported, and was friends with the Plains artists of his time—the Kiowa six, most notably.  Jacobson’s mentorship and encouragement assisted these Native artists in finding wider audiences and earning livings from their artwork. His efforts were so greatly appreciated that he was made an honorary chief of the Kiowa tribe.  We don’t know the details of Jacobson and Sweezy’s relationship, but it is fortunate for collectors that these wonderful paintings found their way to the market. Now they’ve returned to the market, and we are very excited to share them with our enthusiastic collectors.

Reference: American Indian Painters: A Biographical Directory by Jeanne Snodgrass

View our other current and upcoming shows:

  • Native American Nacimientos, Nativity Scenes