The Smithsonians collections of Kiowa drawings include works of art on buffalo hide and more recent examples on paper, a medium that Kiowa artists adopted after it became widely available in the late nineteenth century. Together, these drawings offer a unique source of information on tribal social and artistic traditions.
The best-known bodies of Kiowa graphic art are the drawings produced by Kiowa men imprisoned at Fort Marion in the 1870s and the work produced in the twentieth century by the Kiowa Five, a group of artists who studied at the University of Oklahoma. The National Anthropological Archives has excellent material from both of these important traditions, plus many other drawings that provide a bridge between the two.
Fort Marion Artists
At the conclusion of the Southern Plains Indian war, a group of 72 warriors, primarily Kiowas, Cheyennes, and Arapahoes, were taken prisoner and transported to Fort Marion, in St. Augustine, Florida, where they were held as hostages to ensure the peaceful conduct of their tribes.
The officer in charge of the prisoners, Lt. Richard Pratt, saw their captivity as an opportunity to demonstrate the value of Indian education, and the men were offered English lessons as well as Christian religious instruction. A number of them learned to read and write, and several continued their education in the East after they were released. Two of the men, Tichkematse (Cheyenne) and Etahdleuh (Kiowa), worked for a period of time at the Smithsonian Institution. Lt. Pratt encouraged the men to produce souvenirs for sale to the tourists who frequented St. Augustine, and 23 of the Fort Marion prisoners are known to have produced drawings during their tenure in the East, often in small drawing books. They were able to keep the money from their sales, and many sent funds home to help support their families.
Often working in close collaboration, the Fort Marion artists developed a distinctive style built upon their earlier graphic art tradition. These works in the Smithsonian collections by Kiowa artists display the increased range of subject matter and the incorporation of landscape and perspective from European art traditions characteristic of Fort Marion art. Because the prisoners were being educated in the English language and method of writing, many signed their works, an innovation unknown (and unnecessary) in art that had been created within the confines of the small Kiowa community. One artist, Koba, produced several pages on which words carefully transcribed in English cursive writing are accompanied by small pictures conveying the same concepts. View Fort Marion images.
James Mooney, an anthropologist with the Smithsonian's Bureau of American Ethnology, began work on the Kiowa Reservation in 1892. Over the next decade and a half he regularly employed artists to make drawings related to his Kiowa studies, particularly of shields and tipis.
These drawings were produced purely as illustrations for field notes, not as works for display, and most are heavily annotated on the face of the drawings. Many nevertheless stand as fine works of art in their own right. While these drawings are not signed in the conventional sense of the term, Mooney often noted on the drawing the name of the artist and the date. Many of the drawings are by Silver Horn (Haungooah, or Hangun, as Mooney rendered the Kiowa name), the artist he employed most regularly. A few other artists are noted by name, and a significant number of anonymous works attest to the existence of a pool of competent artists among the Kiowa during this period. View Anthropological Illustrations.
Silver Horn Pictorial Calendar
Pictorial art was used by Plains Indians to maintain formal calendar records as well as to illustrate stories. The Kiowa had a particularly complex calendar system with events recorded for both summer and winter of each year. Most calendars had very simple pictures that helped calendar keepers remember the name of each year.
This calendar, which was produced by Silver Horn in 1904, was more richly illustrated. It is a copy he made for James Mooney of another calendar, which he kept. It begins with the year 1828 and ends in 1904, with summer and winter pictures for most years. Summers are indicated by a green, forked pole, representing the center pole of the Sun Dance, which was held at that time of year. Winters are indicated by a bare tree. In years when no Sun Dance was held, a tree in leaf marks the summer season. The calendar is heavily inscribed with interpretive notes made by Mooney. View Silver Horn Pictorial Calendar.
Silver Horn Target Record Book
Many Plains artists used the leaves of bound record books for their drawings. These drawings appear in a book used for recording Army target- practice sessions. Drawings include scenes of warfare, courting, personal dress, the Sun Dance, and stories of the mythical trickster figure, Saynday.
At the end of the volume is a 30-page pictorial diary. Most of the drawings, including the diary, are by Silver Horn (Haungooah), but some drawings are by other, unknown artists. The drawings were made in the 1890s while Silver Horn was enlisted in Troop L of the 7th Cavalry, based at Fort Sill, Indian Territory (now Oklahoma). View Silver Horn Target Record Book.
Twentieth Century Art
During the twentieth century, Native American painting gained national and international acceptance as fine art. Artists began to produce paintings for sale, combining traditional and modern techniques to produce images of their current ceremonies and dances as well as their historic past. Kiowa painters were prominent in the development of contemporary Indian painting, and led the early "Oklahoma school" of work. Most famous among them were the Kiowa Five -- Spencer Asah, James Auchiah, Jack Hokeah, Stephen Mopope, Monroe Tsatoke and, briefly, Lois Smokey, all of whom studied at the University of Oklahoma in the late 1920s.
Their paintings were effectively promoted by their professor, Oscar B. Jacobson, through international exhibition and a limited-edition portfolio, plates of which are included in the collection. Their success paved the way for several other notable Kiowa artists, whose works are also represented here.
Much of the Smithsonian's material from the Kiowa Five and other twentieth-century artists comes from the collection of Acee Blue Eagle, a Pawnee/Creek teacher, television personality and artist who worked in many media. His papers and personal art collection were donated to the Smithsonian after his death in 1959. The artwork by Native American artists dates from the 1930s to the 1950s and represents a wide range of tribes, with especially strong Kiowa material. View Twentieth Century Art.
Read More About It
To learn more about the NAA's Kiowa artwork collection, see A
Guide to the Kiowa Collections at the Smithsonian Institution
(Smithsonian Contribution to Anthropology 40, 1997), by William L.
Merrill, Marion K. Hansson, Candace S. Greene and Frederick J. Reuss.
Kiowa Drawings was written by Candace S. Greene and designed by Robert Leopold.