Howard Terpning was born in Oak Park, Illinois in 1927. As a boy, he loved drawing and knew that he wanted to be an artist. At the early age of 15, Terpning became fascinated with the West and Native Americans when he spent the summer near Durango, Colorado. At 17, he enlisted in the Marine Corps and served from 1945 through 1946. After leaving the military, he enrolled at the Chicago Academy of Fine Art to study commercial art. He continued his education at the American Academy of Art, where he studied drawing and painting.
After art school, he was introduced Haddon Sundblom, a well-respected illustrator at the time. Sundblom hired him as an apprentice for his Chicago studio. Terpning was working on his own commissions in less than 2 years. His career as a commercial artist was well on its way.
In 1958, Howard Terpning moved to New York where he was hired by a major Chicago studio. By 1962, Terpning was working as a freelance artist and using an agent to facilitate the business aspect of his paintings. As a result, he got work creating illustrations for such publications as Time, Redbook, Reader’s Digest, Good Housekeeping and Field and Stream. Terpning also completed 80 movie posters including Cleopatra, Doctor Zhivago, The Sound of Music and the 1967 re-release of Gone with the Wind. In 1967, Howard Terpning went to Vietnam as a civilian combat artist in the midst of his commercial art career. He lived for a month with the Marines documenting the war. Upon his return, Terpning created six paintings that are now at the National Museum of the Marine Corps.
Around 1974, Howard Terpning decided to explore his interest in the American West and Plain Indians. His paintings primary objective was to tell Indians story. “We could have learned so much from the American Indians if we had had the interest to listen to them and pay attention to them,” Terpning says. He painted and sold his work in Western galleries with his first painting selling for approximately $2500. After three years, he moved to Arizona, leaving the commercial art world behind to focus solely on painting the American West. Within two years, he was elected to the National Academy of Western Art and the Cowboy Artists of America. In his 22 years as an active member of the Cowboy Artists of America, Terpning earned 42 awards for his work. He was awarded 7 by the National Academy of Western Art and 11 by the Autry Museum of the American West and many, many more prestigious awards throughout this career.
Howard Terpning walked away from a successful illustration career to pursue his dream of chronicling Native American people and within two short years became a giant in his field. Some of the museums Terpning’s work can be found at include the Phoenix Art Museum, National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution, Gilcrease Museum, Eiteljorg Museum and the Booth Western Art Museum.