Encyclopedia of the Great Plains

David J. Wishart, Editor

PENN, ROBERT LEE (1946-1999)

From the late 1960s until his death on February 7, 1999, Robert Lee Penn was one of the most outstanding Northern Plains Indian artists of his generation.

Penn was born in Omaha, Nebraska, on May 3, 1946, to an Omaha father and Brule Lakota mother. He grew up on the Winnebago Indian Reservation in Nebraska and the Rosebud Reservation in South Dakota, a background that would define his cultural roots and his art. During his years as a student at the University of South Dakota (1967-72), Penn began his formal art studies with the renowned Yanktonai Nakota artist Oscar Howe. After graduation, Penn continued his creative efforts while working as an illustrator, designer, and teacher. Over a period of twenty-five years he exhibited his work regularly in numerous oneman exhibitions and many others.

Penn mastered the technical means of drawing, watercolor, and painting and used them to express his very personal experience of being a traditional Indian in contemporary America. He considered that, as a Native American in contemporary society, his role was that of both artist and interpreter, using his art to convey cultural themes. His work is characterized by sure drawing combined with a strong sense of color and dynamic design, which he used to eloquently express the vital juncture between Plains Indian worlds, past and present.

Evan M. Maurer Minneapolis Institute of Arts

Maurer, Evan M. Visions of the People: A Pictorial History of Plains Indian Life. Minneapolis: Minneapolis Institute of Arts, 1992.

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