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First Student Graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in Art in 1961
When artist, writer and educator Winona (Stewart) Garmhausen brought the exhibit “Directions in Contemporary Indian Painting” to Ohio Northern’s Elzay Gallery of Art in the fall of 2004, it completed a circle that began back in 1958.
“This show brought back to Ohio Northern a gift that Ohio Northern gave me when I first became a student,” she said.
Not that Winona was ever a typical student. A wife and mother, she began college at age 28 and completed her studies at ONU in three years, with majors in both art and English. “I was very involved in extra curricular activities,” she remembered. “I was ready. I wanted to study. I wanted to write. I wanted to do extra curricular things. I wanted to do everything and I did.”
“You have to remember also that I had two children when I started; had one in my sophomore year and one six weeks after I graduated. So I was one busy girl,” she laughed.
She was the first Ohio Northern student to graduate with a major in art. “I was the experiment,” she admitted. “Dean Darlington and President McIntosh said, ‘If you’ll stick with us, we’ll build the art major around you.’ And they did.”
She took her undergraduate degree and her enthusiasm and moved her studies to Bowling Green State University where she earned a Master of Fine Arts in painting and art history with a theatre minor in 1964.
After teaching in area secondary schools and working as assistant curator at the Allen County Museum, she became an instructor in painting, drawing, art education, art fundamentals and art history at Ohio State University’s Lima campus.
“I wanted to get a doctorate in Native American art and education and the only place I could do that was in the Southwest,” she said. So in 1972 she left Ohio in a Volkswagen bus to move to Santa Fe, New Mexico, and work on her doctorate at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque.
Fate may have played a role in her move. Pulling into Santa Fe after dark, she found an inexpensive motel. The next morning she awoke to find herself across the street from the Instituted of American Indian Arts, the organization she would research, chronicle and work with for the next two years.
Along the way, timing and circumstances allowed her to put her education and skills to work in a variety of ways. “I lived in Santa Fe for 27 years,” she said. “When I first started studying the institute, I worked as the art specialist for the State Department of Education in Santa Fe. I was their first art specialist ever. And then I was asked to come to the College of Santa Fe and build the art department for them.
“That would have been in 1976 and I stayed there through ’81.” She received her Ph.D. in 1982. Her dissertation on the institute became the basis for her 1988 book “History of Indian Arts Education in Santa Fe,” published by Sunstone Press, Santa Fe, New Mexico.
“Then I became a consultant in arts administration and I worked with various public and private institutions to upgrade their departments to get their accreditations. In the meantime, on the side, I ran an art business where I brought people in from all over the country to study with artists in Santa Fe in their studies. It was quite an experience.”
Her success was a matter of timing, she believed. “In the Southwest, especially, in ’72, there were a lot of things that needed to be done that had already been done here in the Midwest. There were opportunities for me as a woman in the arts to do things that I hadn’t done here like becoming the chair of an art department, building a whole art department, being the first art specialist with the state of New Mexico. The doors just opened and all the skills I had and the experience I had, had a place. I was in the center of it and women are welcomed to take positions of authority in the Southwest. I think it goes back to how valuable women were in settling the Southwest.”
Her interest in Native American art goes back to childhood, growing up along the Indiana-Ohio border.
“My name, Winona, means firstborn daughter in Navajo, and in fact, it has a meaning in every Indian language. That influenced me having such an unusual Indian name as a little white Catholic girl. It was a combination of my father’s interest in Native American things and my name,” she said.
While in New Mexico, she also worked for various Indian pueblos raising money and setting up museums.
Now she has returned to the Midwest, living in Bloomington, IN. She published a book of family history in 2003 and continues to paint, primarily abstract watercolors and oils.
“Mostly I’m having fun,” she said.
images: Winona’s graduation picture from 1961 and the Arts Annex facility in 1962.