TC Cannon

Tommy Wayne Cannon (1946 – 1978) was an important Native American artist of the 20th century. An enrolled member of the Kiowa Tribe with Caddo and French descent, he was popularly known as T.C. Cannon.

Cannon grew up in Zodaltone and Gracemont, Oklahoma. His parents were Walter Cannon (Kiowa) and Minnie Ahdunko Cannon (Caddo). His Kiowa name, Pai-doung-a-day, means “One Who Stands in the Sun.” He was exposed to the art of the Kiowa Six, a group of Native American painters who achieved international reputations in the fine art world and who helped developed the Southern Plains-style of painting. Stephen Mopope and Lee Tsatoke Sr. were particularly influential on him.

Cannon enrolled in the Institute of American Indian Arts of Santa Fe in 1964, where he studied under Fritz Scholder (Luiseño). After graduating from IAIA, he enrolled in the San Francisco Art Institute but left after two months and enlisted in the army. From 1967-1968 he served a year in Vietnam with a headquarters company of the 101st Airborne.

Via a FOIA request Medic obtained a one page summary of military service, and a one page record of assignments of TC Cannon.

Medic visited the 2018 Peabody Essex Museum exhibit of Cannon’s work. His startling paintings, which grew out of the politically charged 1960s and 1970s, depict a living Native American tradition, not an imagined or romantic fantasy. His eloquent poetry and political insights reflects a similar stance. He was deeply spiritual.

Among the documents on display were several of Cannon’s letters from Vietnam. Nearly all were typed on headquarters stationary. In several photographs from that time, including Tet ’68, he is wearing clean fatigues and polished boots. It’s likely that Cannon had a rear job, which allowed him time to pursue his art. He apparently had an artistic breakthrough while in Vietnam. Many biographic accounts credit him with earning two Bronze Stars. The summary of information releasable under the Freedom of Information Act indicates one Bronze Star Medal.

In 1972, Cannon and fellow artist Fritz Scholder had a two-man exhibition at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Collection of Fine Arts, titled Two American Painters. He produced a large body of work over the next six years, in preparation for his first one-man show, scheduled to open at the Aberbach Gallery in New York in October 1978. On May 8 of that year, however, he died in an automobile accident. In Anadarko, Oklahoma, a bust was erected in his honor.


TC Cannon: At the Edge of America (Peabody Essex Museum)