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Robert L. Penn

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Location: Room 321, I.D. Weeks Library


Collection Summary

Title Robert L. Penn
Span Dates 1967-2001
Bulk Dates (bulk dates, 1989-1999)
Quantity 1.5 linear ft.
Printed Material Printed Materials are located in Box 1 and 2.
Location     Archives and Special Collections, University Libraries, University of South Dakota.

 Robert (Bobby) Penn was born in Omaha, Nebraska, on 3 May 1946. His father Arthur Penn was a member of the Omaha tribe, and his mother Cornelia Stead Penn was a member of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe. Due to familial difficulties, Penn and his siblings became wards of the state, and Penn spent most of his youth in boarding schools and foster homes.

In 1966 Penn’s high school principal, aware of Penn’s interest in art, informed him of the Oscar Howe summer workshop. The principal encouraged Penn to apply, and Penn was accepted to the workshop, where he learned from nationally renowned, Yanktonai artist, Oscar Howe. This became an important moment in Penn’s life.

When Penn attended the University of South Dakota in 1966, he became a work-study assistant to Oscar Howe. Although Penn was a naturally gifted artist, Howe provided Penn with the formal instruction needed to master essential techniques. They developed a close a relationship built on respect, something which allowed Penn to develop his own distinct style.

Following graduation from the University of South Dakota, Penn experimented with teaching. By 1986, Penn had lived and worked at the Sinte Gleska College, the University of South Dakota, the Red School House (St. Paul, MN), the Santee Community College, the Sisseton-Wahpeton Community College, and the Mary College in Bismark. He then moved to Boulder, Colorado, where he studied engraving and decided to dedicate himself to painting full time.

By this time, Penn had three children (Quanah, Buddy, and Jaime Lee). Drinking had become a problem in his life, and although he was establishing himself in the Native American art community, Penn could not support himself financially. After much soul searching and reflection on his career, Penn moved back to South Dakota to explore his talent on a more spiritual level. Penn realized that he no longer had to be successful in the galleries to be satisfied and successful as an artist.

In 1988 Penn married artist Altadena dela Cruz. Dela Cruz cared for Penn through his lung ailments and nearly fatal case of meningitis. The security and stability that the relationship gave Penn allowed him to focus on his work and explore the spiritual and philosophical perspective he had gained over the years.

On 7 February 1999 Penn passed away at the age of 53 after a long battle with lung ailments. Before his death, Penn had established himself to become a nationally respected and renowned, deeply spiritual Sioux artist.

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