Forensic Art or Native Art? Harvey Pratt Does Both

Aug 2, 2013

Harvey Pratt has turned his special skills into two specialized occupations: Native American artist and police forensic artist. Pratt, a member of the Cheyenne and Arapaho tribes of Oklahoma, first got notice as a school kid from the woman who discovered the Kiowa Five.

Harvey Pratt
Credit Harvey Phillip Pratt

“I went to St.  Patrick’s Indian Mission boarding school in Anadarko, Oklahoma. The priest there saw me drawing and he bought me some supplies. And then he contacted Susie Peters,” Pratt said.

Peters, a Kiowa Agency field matron whose job it was to help school Native American women in the domestic arts of the day, noticed the artwork of young Kiowa artists, and formed an art club.  From this club would emerge the Kiowa Five, whose art would eventually be shown around the world in the 1920s and 1930s.

“She came out and looked at some of my art work...and I had no idea who she was, you know it didn't mean anything to me but I do remember her coming out and looking at my things, and saying he ‘obviously, he has talent. We need to encourage him!’”

Pratt went to college as an art major but only found harsh criticism to the point that he thought, “Well hell, obviously I can't be an artist, so I changed my major.”

Pratt joined the Marines and was sent to Vietnam.  His fellow soldiers noticed him, as he put it, “doodling.”  They asked him to design their insignia, which was embroidered on their uniforms.

“When I got out of the Marine Corps I went back to school, I changed majors again and I became a police officer,” Pratt said.

Pratt’s career in forensic art includes 5,000 witness description drawings, 1,000 soft tissue reconstructions, and 200 skull reconstruction and age progressions on fugitives and missing people.

“When you start thinking back on law enforcement as an artist, you know, it’s just, just a lot of different things in the forensic art and it was job satisfaction as far as doing the police art,” Pratt said.

“It was kind of a struggle but I was always doing art, I kept doing art and my brother was doing some, Charles Pratt, was doing some stuff by then,” he said. “I saw he was having a certain amount of success so I kind of continued to paint and I started selling a few things here and there. I had a couple of galleries that helped me and started exhibiting my work and then I started doing some shows. So it just kind of evolved.”

Pratt’s long career in forensic police art has put him into some high profile cases from Oklahoma’s Steak House Murders to Ted Bundy to a case currently in the news, that of James “Whitey” Bulger.  Pratt was even asked to age progress Osama Bin Laden.

Pratt is recognized equally in both worlds. He was the “Honored One” at the Red Earth Festival in 2005 and for a time he was the interim director of the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation and last year was inducted into the Oklahoma Law Enforcement Hall of Fame.

He has even been asked to do the unusual, interpret people’s recollections of Big Foot sightings for the book The Hoopa Project by David Paulides.  But for now, Pratt is looking forward to participating in his hometown’s art festival, Guthrie Art Escape, this October 5 & 6 in Guthrie, Oklahoma.