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Ch 4 Native American Art in Oklahoma: The Kiowa and Bacone Artists

The development of Native American art in Oklahoma parallels the development of Native American art at San Ildefonso and in the Southwest. In the early decades of the 20th century, Kiowa artists in Oklahoma were "discovered" by well-intentioned Euro-Americans who subsequently supplied the artists with watercolor paints, "encouraged" them, and saw to it that they received an informal art education. These Kiowa artists adopted the themes and styles of Traditional Indian Painting while making it their own. In 1917, Susie Peters, a Field Matron for the Kiowa Agency in Anadarko, Oklahoma, noticed the drawings of five young boys in her home economics class. Peters' class was part of the federal government's effort to establish Euro-American lifeways onIndian reservations. Peters felt that the boys' drawings showed artistic promise. As a result, she "encouraged" the young artists, many of whom were from distinguished and honored Native American families. She provided them with art supplies including watercolors and enrolled them in St. Patrick's Mission School. Peters eventually showed the paintings by the young artists to Oscar Brousse Jacobson, head of the art department at the University of Oklahoma in Norman, and a fellow Euro-American. In 1928 Jacobson arranged for six artists (the original five young men and one young woman) to attend non-credit classes at the University of Oklahoma on scholarship. Jacobson's ideas were similar to those of Dorothy Dunn. Jacobson, too, saw in the artists the potential to create a different style of art from that produced in mainstream American and European art, an art that would reflect the "traditional" values of the Native American through a wholly new aesthetic. The development of the special non-credit class at the University of Oklahoma under Jacobson and The Studio at Santa Fe Indian School marked the beginning of the institutionalization of Indian painting. The parallel development of the two programs was not coincidental. The students participated in exchanges between the two programs. Students were selected from each of the programs to participate in national and international projects such as the mural projects and the pochoir technique prints. By the mid-30s the two "schools" had begun to emerge as a single style which would later be known as Traditional Indian Painting. In 1928, Jacobson exhibited the Kiowa artists' paintings at an international art festival in Prague, Czechoslovakia, where they received critical acclaim. The following year, the first set of pochoir prints based upon watercolors by Native American artists was published: Kiowa Indian Art. The text for the publication was written by Jacobson and his wife Jeanne D'Ucel. The printing method used was the pochoir technique, a special application of the stencil process similar to silk-screening. Both Dunn and Jacobson became rather controversial figures in Native American art. Although they professed a laissez-faire method toward their students' art, they have been accused of influencing the students' work based on the Art Deco and Regionalist aesthetic interests at the time. The two schools developed parallel programs that approached the development of art in a similar manner. However, the cultural differences keep them from completely merging. The drama of the Plains dance was in stark contrast to the more sedate dance style of the Pueblos. The hallmarks of the Kiowa style are drama, movement, monumentality and brilliant color. These characteristics differed from the more sedate style of the Southwest Movement. Among Kiowa painters, depictions of warriors, rituals, dance, flutists and drummers are prevalent, and figures are often shown in profile. Genre scenes, popular among Southwest artists, are almost entirely absent from Kiowa painting. Stephen Mopope. Untitled, n.d. Stephen Mopope, 1898-1974, was one of the six Kiowa artists sent by Susie Peters to study with Jacobson at the University of Oklahoma. The other five were: Lois Smoky/Bougetah, 1907-1981, Monroe Tsatoke/Tsa To Kee, 1904-1937, Jack Hokeah, 1902-1973, James Auchiah, 1906-1975, and Spencer Asah, 1905-1954. An untitled watercolor painting by Mopope is typical of their work. It depicts the drama of Plains dance. In the work, a single figure dressed in traditional clothing is shown performing a dance. The side-view emphasizes the elegant lines of the dancer's body. The delicately rendered figure nonetheless has a monumentality that recalls mural painting techniques. Like Houser, Mopope was one of several Native Americans employed in the 1930s by the Department of Interior to paint public murals. In 1935, an art education program for Native Americans was established at Bacone Junior College in Muskogee, Oklahoma. Like Dorothy Dunn's Studio (described in the preceding chapter), the art program at Bacone was founded on the heels of the Meriam Report and the Indian Reorganization Act, and in response to an increasing market for Native art. The art program at Bacone differed from Dunn's Studio and Jacobson's class in that it was founded and chaired by Native American artists, with Native American artists as the instructors. Artists at Bacone continued the Kiowa tradition of looking to a pre-intervention past for painterly inspiration. They depicted figures from legends and mythology, theatrically and with a sense of the mysterious. Their paintings are therefore somewhat more dramatic than those of the Kiowa and Studio artists.

Acee Blue Eagle. The Deer Spirit, ca. 1950. Acee Blue Eagle, Creek/Pawnee, 1907-1959, was the founding director of the art program at Bacone Junior College. He was a prolific and flamboyant artist who had studied with Oscar Jacobson and his rise in the art world was meteoric. In The Deer Spirit, a central figure, garbed in the traditional clothing of the deer dance, stands erect, one foot placed atop a cow skull. On his right and slightly behind him just outside his field of vision, is a small deer ghost or spirit. The deer spirit provides a sense of drama and gives an aura of mystery to this rigidly ordered composition. Blue Eagle was an authority on tribal ways and often made use of archival material in his quest for authenticity in representation. Woodrow Wilson "Woody" Crumbo. Ducks at Night, n.d. Woodrow Wilson "Woody" Crumbo, Creek/Potawatomi, 1912-1989, succeeded Acee Blue Eagle as art department director at Bacone Junior College. His early work typifies the Bacone style of Traditional Indian Painting. In 1952, Crumbo opened a print studio in Taos, New Mexico. The purpose of the studio was to produce a Native American art product that the general public could afford as a means of contributing to the economic development of Indian artists and tribes. Crumbo's efforts to promote print media as an acceptable medium for Native American artistic expression are one of his greatest contributions to Native American art. The etching Ducks at Night is an example of Crumbo's work in the print medium.

 Updated Tuesday, July 27, 2004 at 4:43:30 PM by Gerri Parker -
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