Howard Terpning (born 1927) Coffee Coolers Meet the Hostiles 32 x 52in (Painted in 1982.)

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Lot 31
Howard Terpning
(born 1927)
Coffee Coolers Meet the Hostiles 32 x 52in

Sold for US$ 1,392,500 inc. premium
Howard Terpning (born 1927)
Coffee Coolers Meet the Hostiles
signed, dated and inscribed '© Terpning 1982 CA' (lower left) and signed again and inscribed with title (on the backing)
oil on canvas
32 x 52in
Painted in 1982.


  • Provenance
    The artist.
    Sale, Western Heritage Sale, Plano, Texas, May 15, 1982, lot 75.
    Acquired by the late owner from the above.

    Kerrville, Texas, Cowboy Artists of America Museum, July 1983.
    Tulsa, Oklahoma, Gilcrease Museum, Gilcrease Rendezvous 1985: Paintings by Howard Terpning, May 3-July 7, 1985.
    Kerrville, Texas, Cowboy Artists of America Museum, Canvas-ing the West: Gary Carter and Howard Terpning, January 21-March 31, 1997.

    F.A. Myers, "An Interview with Howard Terpning: 1985 Gilcrease Rendezvous Painter," Gilcrease Magazine of American History and Art, vol. 7, no. 2, April 1985, p. 26, illustrated.
    S.H. McGarry, Honoring The Western Tradition: The L.D. "Brink" Brinkman Collection, Kerrville, Texas, 2003, p. 163, illustrated.

    Howard Terpning was born in Oak Park, Illinois. As a young man he had ambitions to be a pilot, as did his brother, who flew bombers in World War II, leading Terpning to join the Marine Corp in 1945, serving as an infantryman. Following his service, he was admitted to the Academy of Fine Art in Chicago, which was no easy task in light of competition from other returning veterans. Trying his hand in the commercial illustration business, Terpning moved to New York for a short time but eventually returned to Chicago, where we secured employment in Milwaukee as an illustrator for a variety of projects. Now an established historical painter, in 1967 Terpning was invited by the Marine Corp to record scenes of the Vietnam War. Six major works from this series still hang in the Marine Corps Museum in Washington D.C.

    In subsequent years Terpning produced numerous illustrations for many famous movie posters as well as popular magazine covers. A commission during this time for Winchester Firearms may have rekindled his lifelong love of the West, as Terpning later chose to take a break from commercial work and try his hand at easel painting. From this came three Western compositions that he consigned to a gallery in Scottsdale in 1975. The gallery quickly sold the paintings and their commercial success marked a seminal point in the artist's career. His love of painting Western scenes gradually became his sole career.

    Terpning moved to Tucson in 1977, where he continues to live and paint today. Since 1979 he has been a member of both the National Academy of Western Art and the Cowboy Artists of America. His paintings have received numerous awards through the years and his works became headliners in annual fundraisers for museums such as the Autry Museum of the American West and the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum. He is recognized today as the premier living Western painter. Not only is the quality of Terpning's work extraordinary, but his attention to detail and his respect and sensitivity to Indian culture has become world renowned.

    Coffee Coolers Meet the Hostiles exemplifies the conflict of Westward expansion through a dramatic encounter of Sioux tribesmen with opposing ways of life. By the mid-1860s, the Great Sioux Nation faced increased land restrictions by the Federal Government, resulting in the establishment of the Great Sioux Reservation with the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1868. To incentivize and 'civilize' the Plains Indians, clothing, blankets, cloth and food rations of flour, lard, bacon, sugar, coffee and beef were distributed to those who would live on the Reservation. Many Plains Indians rejected this push toward agrarian life, and in the present work, the clash of cultures is marked. The 'Coffee Coolers' are depicted in Western tack and apparel, carrying rifles, and loosely assembled, whereas the 'Hostiles'—warriors who continued to hunt and live in the unseeded territories—are shown in buckskin, with traditional hunting weapons, banding cohesively.

    Terpning masterfully captures the crux of this conflict through formal composition in the triangulation of a peace pipe, rifle, and lance with their respective agents. Terpning is considered by many to be the finest 'modern-day storyteller' of the American West, and the present work is a superb example of the sensitive and historically-informed narrative for which he is best known. On a note written by the artist and attached to the reverse of the painting, the artist described the present work:

    "The 'Coffee Coolers' was a name that the hostile Sioux from the north gave to their tribesmen who chose to live around the white man agency and seek their favor and presents, and scout for them. In the month of yellowing grass, some coffee coolers rode up to the north and met some of the hostile Sioux on the rolling plains and smoked the pipe and counciled [sic] with them and tried to convince them to bring their band down to the agency and live in peace. Two hostile Indians on the right are riding cavalry horses."1

    In a second letter to L.D. Brinkman, the artist, elaborated on the subject of the work and added to his description the following:

    "Indians who would not live on reservations but resisted confinement were called hostiles. They in turn called the Indians who lived on reservations and around the white man 'coffee coolers' because they liked the white man's coffee & sugar and all the warm blankets and other goods that the white man passed out. As long as they stayed on the reservation, they were called 'good' Indians. From time to time they would be sent out to hostile territory to try and talk to the resisting people into coming back to the reservation. Many ranks remained independent until forced onto reservations at gunpoint. This scene shows some "good" Indians approaching some hostile and offering the pipe so they may sit down and smoke and perhaps be induced to return to the reservation with them."2

    1 Letter affixed to the reverse of the present lot.
    2 Howard Terpning, unpublished letter.
Howard Terpning (born 1927) Coffee Coolers Meet the Hostiles 32 x 52in (Painted in 1982.)
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