Earlier this year, a former Mitchell resident whose family's history is deeply rooted in the community donated three priceless paintings to the Carnegie Resource Center.
Dick Weller called Lyle Swenson to ask whether the organization would like three original Oscar Howe paintings. Swenson, who is president of the Mitchell Area Historical Society, didn't hesitate for an instant in accepting.
"Dick said, 'I like what you're doing,' " Swenson said. "And we're honored to get them. It adds authenticity to what we're doing here."
The Carnegie Resource Center houses both the Mitchell Area Historical Society and Mitchell Area Genealogical Society. It is the former Carnegie Public Library and Oscar Howe Art Center.
Howe is noted highly within the Mitchell community, not only for designing the murals on the World's Only Corn Palace from 1949 to 1971, but for painting the mural on the inside of the dome in the Carnegie Resource Center.
Two of the paintings Weller donated have been hung already. Upon entering the foyer, "Indian Princess at Leisure" and "Indian Princess at Work" hang in an inconspicuous corner, but within full view of anyone and security cameras. Plus, Swenson said he and the board have taken other security precautions to safeguard the paintings, including using security hangers.
Swenson said he and the Carnegie Resource Center board had a hard time deciding where to hang the paintings to keep them out of direct sunlight and in decent temperatures.
The third painting, "Untitled (Indian Head Profile)," will be hung soon, and will likely hang directly above the other two.
Weller, who now lives in Rapid City, responded to an email that his family became close with Howe and his wife, Heidi, when the couple moved to Mitchell. He said the Howes lived right next door in Phillips Hall on the Dakota Wesleyan University campus, which has since been torn down, and Howe painted in a studio in the residence hall. Later, Howe painted in a studio at Old College Hall, which burned down.
"As a kid, I used to watch him paint in both studios," Weller wrote in the email. "He was a very soft-spoken, kind man."
Weller received "Untitled (Indian Head Profile)" as a gift from his parents when he went to college in California, Swenson said. He attended Stanford University, which at the time was represented by an Native American-themed logo.
"So, he took it with him and had it in his dorm room, and kept it over the years," Swenson said.
"Indian Princess at Work" and "Indian Princess at Leisure" were Weller family-owned paintings, he added, which Howe likely painted in the late 1940s or early 1950s.
Swenson said he, board members and volunteers are all proud and humbled to have received such a generous gift.
Weller added that he encourages the public to visit the Carnegie Resource Center to see the paintings and support the facility.
"The Sam F. Weller family and friends have enjoyed these three original Oscar Howe paintings for the past 70 years and now it is time for the public to enjoy them," Weller said.