THE LIFE OF HARRY WHITEHORSE
Born in Black River Falls, Wisconsin in 1927
Harry Whitehorse came into this world in a wigwam near the Indian Mission in Black River Falls, Wisconsin, the traditional home of the Ho-Chunk people. His career in art began at an early age as an apprentice to his uncle, George Seymour, who was an accomplished silversmith, carver, and artist. He learned to fashion small bits of silver into designs taken from nature, hoping to sell them alongside the more advanced work of his teacher. When Harry was a young child, he attended Tomah Indian Boarding School, as was the custom of the day. There the art teachers observed his already well-developed talents and continued to tutor him the areas of oil painting and drawing.
World War 2 & Post War Years
The interest in art continued through military service in WWII, where Harry had the opportunity to view the great art museums of the Orient and Europe. This influence convinced Harry to pursue a career in art after his tour of duty.
At the University of Wisconsin, Harry studied human and animal anatomy. He graduated from the Arthur Colt School of Fine Arts in Madison, Wisconsin where he continued to study oil painting in the style of the old masters. He also graduated from a local technical college where he learned welding and metal fabrication.
The Metal Years
In the 1960’s and 1970’s, Harry’s artistic talent and metal working skills combined to produce a series of metal sculptures which helped him gain prominence in the art world. Eventually, the physical demands of pounding metal forced Harry to turn to other mediums.
Harry owned and operated Chief Auto Body for 40 years in Monona, Wisconsin. Throughout his life, he was fascinated by cars and applied his artistic sensibilities by using the blank canvas of a stock automobile and then customizing to his own standards.
Revisiting Wood Carving
In the 1980’s Harry began carving birds and animals from wood for private commissions. He drew inspiration from the times when as a child he carved wooden objects beside his Uncle George Seymour. Harry applied his astounding skills of concentration and observation to celebrate Wisconsin’s wildlife and his deep connection to the woodlands. Every feather and hair was meticulously defined using a wood burner and then the piece was finished with oil paints, carefully layered to portray the essence of the subject matter. Harry’s hawks, chickadees, cardinals, hummingbirds, and others were crowd favorites at art exhibits around the country. Even though the carvings were physically easier to create compared to hammering metal sculptures, he still desired to sculpt on a larger scale.
Multi Media & Wood
The 1990’s continued to be productive years for Harry. He was driven to create every day and developed new sculpting methods using epoxies over armatures. The life size horse with rider sculpture “Ghost Warrior” is a fusion of his metal work and the multi-media method that he developed. Even though larger than life size, the sculptures were relatively light.They could be cast in bronze or finished with oil paints. During this time, Harry received several public commissions for large sculptures from historic trees that featured strong Native American themes.
Harry Whitehorse 1927-2017
After 90 incredible years of creating, Harry walked on in November 2017. He witnessed history, served his country in WW2, raised 8 children, built and designed race cars, won trap shooting championships, and left us a legacy of beauty inherent in his art. The key to Harry’s art is that it does speak for itself, and it speaks also to the community from which it is created. His carvings, sculptures, and paintings are exceptional: easily understood, expressive of deep emotion, and rooted in a community history and values. For Harry Whitehorse, the closeness to wildlife and his Ho-Chunk heritage are strongly reflected in the fine detail of his brush strokes, in his intricate carvings, and in the cold realism of his metal sculptures.