Chief Terry Saul (1921-1976)

Chief Terry Saul, Chickasaw and Choctaw, began his art education at Bacone College in Muskogee, Oklahoma, where he studied under Woody Crumbo, one of the most famous Native American artists of the traditional style.

When the United States entered World War II, Mr. Saul took a break from his studies and joined the military, serving in the 45th Infantry Division in Europe and achieving the rank of first sergeant.

Following his military service, Mr. Saul used the G.I. Bill to pursue a graduate degree in art from the University of Oklahoma (OU), which he received in 1949.

The timing of Mr. Saul’s return to school had a profound impact on the rest of his artistic career. Three years before he began his studies at OU, there was a major shift among the professorial staff of OU’s art department. Replacing the OU faculty – who had a strong background in traditional Native American styles and had trained many renowned Native American artists of the previous generation – were new, younger professors with a focus in Cubism, Expressionism, and Surrealism. This new faculty would have a substantial influence on Mr. Saul’s artistic style.

Unlike many of his fellow students, Mr. Saul did not adhere to a specific art movement but used the stylistic influences as a lens into the culture of his heritage. He developed his own blend of styles to create art that represented his unique view of the world.

Mr. Saul’s style presented a combination of the colors and somewhat flat representations of traditional Native American art with the elongated and simplified forms common to the contemporary artistic styles embraced by his professors.

“All my paintings have Indian themes – in contemporary style … This is a combination of line, design and color. It is not exactly like traditional ‘calendar’ Indian art but not too radical, either.”

Chief Terry Saul, February 4, 1962, Mac Sebree, “U.S. Indians Turning to Modern Art,” Daily Oklahoman.

Although best known for art that incorporates more modern artistic influences, Mr. Saul also experimented with traditional Native American styles. Through all of his work, regardless of stylistic choices, Mr. Saul’s goal was to represent the culture and history of his Choctaw and Chickasaw heritage.

To contribute to the evolution of Native American art and to inspire young Native artists, Mr. Saul returned to Bacone College where he served as the art department chair from 1970 until his death in 1976.

“Painting to me is purely a personal thing and I try very hard to make my own interpretations as original and personal as they can possibly be … I sacrifice, at times, realistic renderings and rely on color, pattern and design to emphasize a certain theme of part of my interpretations and compositions. Trying to put down in line and color the customs of the Choctaw tribe …”

– Letter from Mr. Saul to Philbrook Art Center, April 4, 1948

Credits: Story

Native American Artists of the Southeast was developed by the Bureau of Indian Affairs Museum Program, September 2016.

Shannon Stiles, Staff Curator
Annie Pardo, Museum Program Manager
(with assistance from the summer intern)


Reese, Linda W. and Patricia Loughlin. Main Street Oklahoma: Stories of Twentieth-Century America. Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press, 2013. Accessed through Google Books,

White, Mark A. “A Modernist Moment: Native Art and Surrealism at the University of Oklahoma.” Journal of Surrealism and the Americas 7, no. 1 (2013): 52-70. Accessed September 14, 2016.

Credits: All media
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