The Kiowa Five
By William F. O'Brien
In 1928 the International Art Congress was convened in Prague, Czechoslovakia.
It featured art from around the world, including 35 pastel drawings done by Native American artists from the state of Oklahoma. The artists were members of a group that is known in art history as the " Kiowa Five." Their story began in the latter half of the first decade of the last century in a mission school operated by St. Patrick's Catholic Church in Anadarko, where a group of Kiowa students began to draw pictures of the Kiowa rituals they had seen as children. Their work got the attention of a woman employed by the Indian Agency in Anadarko, Susie Peters, who organized them into an art club and encouraged them to memorialize in drawings the Kiowa culture that included singing and dancing. These and other aspects of Kiowa life were being eroded as a result of the influx of white citizens into what had formerly been Indian Territory, and Peters may have seen their artwork as a way to preserve Kiowa traditions for future generations.
Peters soon began to distribute their work to a variety of interested parties, and some of it fell into the hands of Oscar Brousse Jacobson. Jacobson was a Swedish immigrant who had come to Kansas as a youth with his parents, where he developed a love of Western American life. After obtaining a master of fine arts degree from Yale University, Jacobson was hired by the University of Oklahoma in 1915 to head the art department
He was fascinated by the drawings that he had received, and he issued an invitation to the Kiowa students to come to Norman and become special students in the art department.
A total of six Kiowa artists came to Norman in response to his invitation, even though they would become known as the "Kiowa five." They were James Auchiah, Spencer Asah, Jack Hoeah, Stephen Mopope, Monroe Tsatoke (who was also known as "Hunting Horse") and Lois Smokey -- who has not been given the credit she deserves in the story of Native American art.
Smokey's work was included in most of the early exhibits of their work, and her parents rented a large home in Norman in which all six Kiowa students lived while they were at OU.
Jacobson provided them with a monthly stipend for their living expenses, and ignored suggestions that the Kiowa artists should be taught to draw in a more European manner. He also developed a market for their work. He took some of their paintings to New Mexico, where they would inspire a style of painting that is known as the "Oklahoma School." And before the Prague Exhibition, Jacobson had arranged for their work to be shown at the Denver Art Museum, which generated a demand for their work among Western art patrons, and a folio of the Kiowa Five's work was published in France in response to the interest that had been sparked by the exhibit in the Czech capital. In 1931, as described by Lydia Wyckoff of the Philbrook Museum of Art in an article she authored on Native American painting, an exhibition of art from the Southwest that included paintings by the Kiowa artists was opened in New York City, and their work was embraced by the Eastern artistic establishment as a result.
Jack Hokeah would leave Oklahoma and spend a decade in Santa Fe where he would inspire a variety of artists. Stephen Mopope would go on to paint murals on the walls of the Anadarko Post Office Building in the 1930s as part of the federal Works Progress Administration that are still in place today. He was assisted by Spencer Asah and James Auchiah. Those murals display different aspects of Kiowa life before Oklahoma's statehood.
Monroe Tsako painted a series of murals on the third floor of the Oklahoma Historical Society in Oklahoma City. One art scholar, Canadian professor John Anson Warner, would summarize the Kiowa Five's style as "one that emphasized flat colors, clear outlines and sinuous curves, with a subject matter that was nostalgic and traditional minded in that it depicted scenes of dancing, warfare, buffalo hunting and horses. It was preeminently decorative and more emblematic than narrative"
In recognition of Oscar Jacobson' contribution to OU and the state of Oklahoma, the OU Visitor's Center hall was named for him. Prints of the work done by the Kiowa Five and other American artists can be purchased at his former home, Jacobson House, which is located on 609 Chautauqua Street in Norman and is now the property of the University of Oklahoma.
Bill O'Brien is a columnist and regular contributor to the Altus Times.
See some Kiowa Drawings at the National Anthropological Archives
The Native American artists who became known as the Kiowa Five were James Auchiah (1906 -1974), Spencer Asah (1905 or 1910-1954), Jack Hokeah (1902- 1969), Stephen Mopope (1898- 1974), and Monroe Tsatoke (1904- 1937). Lois (Bougetah) Smokey (1907- 1981) was also in the group.
Kiowa Five Collection at the Western History Collections, University of Oklahoma
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Background Courtesy Silverhawk.