The first art show at the new Ho-Chunk Art Museum and Culture Center took place in Tomah, Wisconsin on Jan. 24.
The showcased art was created by Clarence Boyce Monegar.
Many of Clarence’s watercolor paintings represented the Ho-Chunk landscape of central Wisconsin. They focused on the forests and fields with a perception that is not only accurate but tempered with knowledge and respect inherited from generations of devotion.
Monegar first became inspired by art from watching his mother weave, design, and decorate baskets. He had an art teacher at Tomah Indian School, Miss Crane, who recognized his talents for drawing and painting and encouraged him to pursue art as a career.
For several years he had spent periods among the Ho-Chunk Nation and immersed himself in the life and work of his people. He found himself back in the city, painting and selling his pictures and seeking the companionship of friends and family who understood his art.
His great grandfather, Chief Joe Monegar, had been a famous leader and medicine man among the Winnebago tribes during the Civil War. His father, Thomas Monegar, provided a living for his family of seven by working in nearby cranberry marshes.
Conscious of poverty, his father was inclined to discourage Clarence’s early attempts at drawing and painting. His mother, however, supported his work.
Once his father passed, Clarence dropped out of high school to help support his mother and family.
At the age of 22, he married Emma Stacy, and his attempts at art were revived and encouraged by his wife. For many years the family thrived, but after the birth of their four children, tragedy struck when the mother contracted tuberculosis.
Her illness had a depressing effect on his work and personal life. Her death, shortly after that, set him on a continual path of fallen trees and broken bottles.
When the shock of his wife’s death left him unable to support his children, he was sent to the Neillsville jail on the nonsupport warrant of a kinsman. While in jail, his desire to express himself creatively returned.
He asked for paper brushes and crayons, and literally painted his way out of jail. The first viewers of his work were prisoners, jailors, the sheriff, and the district attorney.
The district attorney was so amazed by Clarence’s work that he drove him to UW-Madison to see the noted artist, John Steuart Curry, artist in residence, in the hope that Curry would recognize Monegar’s art. Curry was so impressed that he wrote to his dealer, Reeves Lowenthal of Associated American Artists in New York.
Curry then introduced Monegar to lithography, and it was his painting named Feeding Grouse that the dealer accepted and sold in an edition of sixty.
Curry started mentoring Monegar and introduced him to the annual Rural Arts Show at the University. Whatever art Clarence submitted was sold.
Clarence started to sign his drawings with his name and also drew a tiny arrowhead after his name to signify his Native American culture in a predominantly Euro-American audience. This all came to an end in 1945 when he was drafted into the army to serve as an ambulance driver
It is estimated that, throughout his life, he painted over 8,000 pictures and sold the majority of them himself by going door to door.
What has become of these paintings is unknown. Some hang on the walls of hunting shacks and lake cottages, while others are in the galleries of collectors.