Title of Work
Jesse Howard 1
Date of Work
Super 8 film
Art & Design Study Collection: James Smith Pierce Film Collection
Stored: JSP.FAST.FILM BOX 1
UND Art Collections Repository
Born in Brooklyn, New York, James Smith Pierce received his PhD in art history from Harvard University. During his career as a professor, Pierce also became an accomplished artist, whose artworks were included in important exhibitions (including a show on land art at the Hirshhorn Museum in Washington, DC) and books on contemporary earthworks and site-specific sculpture. Pierce was also a photographer, exhibition curator, and art collector.
About Jesse “Outlaw” Howard:
Jesse Howard was born in 1885 in Shamrock, Missouri but spent most of his life in Fulton, Missouri. Along with his twin sister, Howard was the youngest of 10 children. He traveled around the Western U.S. by rail, working in Wyoming and California threshing hay. He returned to Missouri in 1905, got married, and settled in Fulton in 1916, earning his living through odd jobs.
Images and film are provided for educational purposes only. © University of North Dakota. All rights reserved.
In the late 1930s, Fulton hosted an exhibition of technology; he worked at this event, and after seeing the crowds, decided to make a display of his own. He painted various signs full of biblical references and placed them throughout his property. The local populace disliked his signs and began stealing, vandalizing, and defacing them, and thieves stole livestock from him as well. His solution to the vandalism was simple: put up more signs.
This was a turning point for Howard and began a period of change for his art. Although still containing biblical references, his signs became more focused on protesting the mistreatment by his neighbors. In 1954, he went to Washington, DC to complain directly to his Congressman and was forcibly kicked out. In the early 1950’s, a fire broke out on his property. Firefighters never showed up and it was up to Howard and his neighbors to extinguish the flames. Howard renamed his property “Hell’s 20 Acres” to commemorate this event.
By 1968 he was starting to receive national recognition for his artwork. In 1970, the Kansas City Art Institute purchased some of his signs; they would care for many more of his signs following his death in 1983. His signs now all exist in the hands of various museums or private collectors.
Dark spot on film. Digitally preserved 2021.
Images and film are provided for educational purposes only. May not be reproduced in any form without written consent. ©University of North Dakota. All rights reserved.