Well known teacher, artist to retire from UTTC
Wallace ‘Butch’ Thunder Hawk Jr. holding one of his creations, a horse stick, and surrounded by other Native art and cultural objects. (DENNIS J. NEUMANN/United Tribes Technical College Library & Archive)
BISMARCK – A well-known and admired instructor at United Tribes Technical College (UTTC) plans to retire at the end of the school year. Wallace ‘Butch’ Thunder Hawk Jr. will conclude his near half-century classroom teaching career following the college’s Spring Graduation in early May.
In 1973, Thunder Hawk began what turned out to be a long and distinguished calling focused on teaching about tribal culture. His 49-years at UTTC will be celebrated at a public reception Friday, May 6 from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. in the college’s James Henry Community Gymnasium. Lunch will be served.
Thunder Hawk has been with UTTC nearly since its start and is the employee with the longest record of service. He’s an enrolled citizen of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and grew up in Cannonball, North Dakota and Bismarck. He learned about the culture from within his family and community. He played sports and was a member of the Fort Yates ‘Warriors’ 1964 North Dakota State Class B High School Championship basketball team. He earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Physical Education from Dickinson (ND) State College, and studied Graphic Design at California College of Arts in Oakland.
As Tribal Arts Instructor in UTTC’s General Education program, his teaching has focused on understanding Native art and its role in the culture by learning how to make art and cultural objects. The walls and shelves of his classrooms have been packed with examples of work inspired from within the culture. Over the years, Thunder Hawk’s teaching has been a source of insight and inspiration to hundreds of Native and non-Native students. His classes have consistently been rated among the most popular.
Outside the classroom, ‘Butch’ Thunder Hawk artwork is widely known and circulated in public and private collections across the nation and abroad. His media include drawings and paintings, stained-glass works, textiles, bone and hides, woodcarving, and ledger art.
He has been sought as a presenter and exhibitor for public events, gaining a reputation as a Northern Plains culture keeper and cultural ambassador. He was commissioned for projects and consulted by experts for his knowledge and understanding of the culture. Some of the work involved making cultural objects. In 2001, he and his students created 20 traditional Native items for the Thomas Jefferson home, Monticello, as replicas of those collected from tribes by Lewis and Clark.
His association with the Peabody Museum at Harvard University is a model of collaboration. In 2009, following several years as a visiting scholar, Thunder Hawk co-curated the exhibit “Wiyohpiyata: Lakota Images of the Contested West | Peabody Museum (harvard.edu).” His graphic designs formed the foundation for the exhibit, capturing the spirit and style of ledger drawings made by Lakota warriors in the years leading up to the Custer Fight at Greasy Grass (Little Big Horn). Focusing on the historic value of the warriors’ drawings, Thunder Hawk said at the time, “They’re more than art; they’re a pictorial history, showing honor in battle, their achievements, and personal accounts of deeds that actually took place.” Wiyohpiyata was the first-ever major Peabody exhibit to be designed and co-curated by a contemporary artist and the first co-curated by a Native American.
RECOGNITION and RESPECT
Yet, with all of his accomplishments, ‘Butch’ Thunder Hawk remains truly humble in his character and being. He would rather make light with Indian humor than talk about awards or recognition. His high regard for the culture and modest bearing has earned him the respect and admiration of Native People and non-Natives alike.
In 2019, he was inducted into the North Dakota Native American Hall of Honor during ceremonies conducted at the North Dakota Heritage Center.
In recognizing ‘Butch’ at the time of his retirement, UTTC underscores a value that courses through Native life, and that is respect for culture carriers who willingly and generously pass along to future generations the treasures of their accumulated life experiences.