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 Jerome Richard Tiger  (1941 - 1967)

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Lived/Active: Oklahoma      Known for: painting and sculpture-Indian subjects

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This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Jerome Tiger was a full blood Creek-Seminole, born in 1941 in Oklahoma.  He grew up on the campgrounds that surrounded his grandfather's Indian Baptist church near the sleepy town of Eufaula.  Research for many of his paintings began when he was still a child as he traveled with his maternal grandfather, Coleman Lewis, a Baptist Missionary.  Coleman traveled throughout Indian Country and on the long rides through the backwoods to churches, and Coleman taught his grandson the history of the Creek people in his native Creek language.

In Enfaula and, later, in Muskogee, Tiger attended public schools, learned English, and became familiar with such marvels of white culture as running water, indoor toilets, and telephones.  He was a high school dropout, a street and ring fighter of exceptional ability, and a laborer.  He married and had three children.  And he died in 1967, at the age of twenty-six, of a gunshot wound to the head.  Tiger's legacy was his paintings: a body of work of exquisite beauty that revolutionized American Indian art.

The success and genius of Tiger's art can be attributed to what was called the Tiger style--a unique combination of spiritual vision, humane understanding, and technical virtuosity.  In subject matter and composition, his art was traditional.  In every other respect, it was a radical departure from classical Indian art.

When Tiger began painting in the 1960's, few, if any, artists could make a living in Indian art. With some formal training at the Cooper School of Art in Cleveland,  against all odds, he committed himself to Indian art, and from 1962 until 1967, produced hundreds of paintings that from the outset received the acclaim of critics, won awards, and brought him success and recognition.  The average Indian art buyer of the 1960's was unduly critical, ready to find fault with the quality of a piece of work or the authenticity of its details.  To be popular with such an audience, not only did Tiger have to be technically competent but inventive and prolific.

Tiger's uncanny ability to draw virtually anything after only a momentary glance has led critics to refer to him as the Rembrandt or Goya of Indian art.  This is quite a lofty comparison since Tiger had never seen the work of the masters with whom he was compared.  But characteristic of all great art, Tiger's work had universal appeal.  Its beauty and deep spirituality spoke to people of all races, not just Native Americans.

Since his death, Tiger's style has had a tremendous influence on the Indian artists that have succeeded him.  One art critic commented--"Wherever there are Indian paintings today, Tiger's influence can be felt."  With almost unanimous agreement, Native American artists credit Jerome Tiger with being the major influence in the development of contemporary Indian art.  Tiger was an artist's artist.

Since 1970, thirty-three of Tiger's paintings have been reproduced as limited edition prints by the Jerome Tiger Art Company, a family owned business.  The limited edition prints are a proven investment: twenty-two of the prints are sold-out and are only available in the secondary market or as part of a very pricey collector's set.

Among his awards, since beginning his career as an artist in 1967, are First Place, Five Civilized Tribes Museum, Muskogee, Oklahoma in 1967, 1968, 1969 and 1970.  In 1977, he won the Governor's Award at the Five Civilized Tribes Museum, and in January 1978, as Artist of the Month, he was invited to hang paintings in the State Capitol Building in Oklahoma City.  Later that year he was awarded both the First and Second Place Awards at the Gallup Inter-tribal Ceremonial Show.

In 1978, Johnny swept the Five Civilized Tribes Museum Annual Exhibition, winning five awards including Grand Prize, First Place Seminole Division, and the Heritage Award.  He has since been declared Master Artist by the museum and has won several awards in Master competitions, including the 1993 Heritage Award, and 1994 the Best in Show Award.

Other first place awards came from Southland Art Fair, Tulsa, Oklahoma; Okmulgee Art Guild Show, Okmulgee, Oklahoma; Seminole Nation Art Show, Wewoka, Oklahoma; Red Cloud Indian Art Show, Pine Ridge, South Dakota; and Gallup Inter-Tribal Ceremonial Show, Gallup, New Mexico.

Tiger exhibited his paintings and held one man shows throughout the nation. The Highgate Literary Institute in London, England hosted him for an exhibition in 1987.  Like his paintings, Tiger's sculptures have taken first place awards at numerous shows. His Seeker of Vision won First Place, Bronze at the Oklahoma City Indian Heritage Art Show.

Sources:
Submitted June 2004 from the Ashworth Collection of Western and Native American Art in Fort Smith, AR. Material for this biography was obtained from the web site www.jerometigerart.com and http://www.jerometigerart.com
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The following is from The Biographical Directory of Native American Painters by Patrick D. Lester.

Born in Tahlequah, Oklahoma, Jerome Tiger lived most of his life in Muskogee, Oklahoma.  His education included Eufaual, Oklahoma High School and the Cleveland, Ohio Engineering Institute from 1963 to 1964 as well as the Cooper Art School in Cleveland.

A mural by Jerome Tiger is in Calhoun's Department Store in Muskogee.

"Much credit for Tiger's recognition must be given Nettie Wheeler of Muskogee, OK, who worked tirelessly in his behalf throughout the country". Also, Jeanne Snodgrass, when curator of Indian Art at the Philbrook Art Center, organized Tiger's first exhibition at the museum, and when most of the paintings sold on opening night, she asked him to paint more as replacements. "Before the close of the exhibition, Tiger had replaced the paintings twice."

Publications:
The Arizona Republic, March 17, 1968; The Indian Trader, June 1981; Southwest Art, December 1986; Tamaqua, Winter/Spring 1991; and Native, Winter/Spring 1991.

** If you discover credit omissions or have additional information to add, please let us know at registrar@AskART.com.
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