Published on July 31, 2012 by Amy
Woodrow “Woody” Crumbo (January 21, 1912—April 4, 1989) was a Potawatomi artist, flautist, and dancer. As an independent prospector, he found one of the largest beryllium veins in the nation. His paintings are held by several prominent museums, including the Smithsonian Institution and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. A 1978 inductee into the Oklahoma Hall of Fame, Crumbo became an “ambassador of good will” for Oklahoma in 1982 under appointment by Governor George Nigh.
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Born near Lexington, Oklahoma, Crumbo moved with his mother to Kansas as a child after the death of his father in 1916. Orphaned in 1919, he spent the rest of his childhood living with various American Indian families around Sand Springs, Oklahoma. When Crumbo was 17, he began studying art at the Chilocco Indian Agricultural School, also taking up the study of the Kiowa ceremonial wooden flute. Later he soloed on this instrument in performance with the Wichita Symphony.
At the age of 19, Crumbo earned a scholarship to the Wichita American Indian Institute. He graduated three years later as valedictorian. Crumbo continue his studies at Wichita University from 1933 to 1936, where he studied mural technique with Olle Nordmark, watercolor with Clayton Staples, and painting and drawing with Oscar Jacobson. In 1936 Crumbo enrolled the University of Oklahoma, where he studied for two years with Oscar Jacobson.
While studying art, Crumbo supported himself as a Native American dancer. He toured reservations across the United States in the early 1930s disseminating and collecting traditional dances. His art career was cemented when his teacher from the Chilocco Indian School sold a number of his painting to the San Francisco Museum of Art.Subsequently, Crumbo joined the Bacone College in Muskogee as Director of Art from 1938-1941. A few years later he curated a collection of Native American art at the Thomas Gilcrease Institute in Tulsa. Crumbo’s “peyote bird” design became the logo for the Gilcrease Museum.
From 1948 to 1960, Crumbo lived in Taos, New Mexico. In the 1950s, Crumbo bought a $3 mail-order mineral identification kit; he took up prospecting with fellow artist Max Evans. The two found deposits of ore worth millions, including a vein of beryllium that the New Mexico School of Mines identified at the time as “among the greatest beryllium finds in the nation.” He later served as Assistant Director of the El Paso, Texas Museum of Art from 1960–1967 and briefly as Director in 1968. He left to work independently and explore humanitarian efforts. In 1973 he took up residence near Checotah, Oklahoma, where he continued to create and to promote Native American art. He moved to Cimarron, New Mexico in 1988, died there in 1989, and was buried in Okmulgee, Oklahoma.