Birthplace of Traditional Indian Art
Tucked away on the northwestern corner of the University of Oklahoma Norman campus is an unassuming 100-year-old little house that’s home to a huge legacy–it’s nothing less than the birthplace of what we have all come to know as traditional Indian art.
Now, as then, it’s also a connecting force for people from all races, ages and backgrounds who gather within its doors for everything from art shows to poetry readings, musical performances to language lessons, stickball demonstrations to lectures and workshops.
It’s one of those odd quirks of history that a Swedish educator should be the one to introduce the world to the unique talent of Oklahoma’s Native American artists. Arriving in Norman in 1915 to head OU’s fledgling art program, Swedish-born Oscar Jacobson became acquainted with a special group of young Kiowa artists who would come to be known as the “Kiowa 6.” He befriended the group, encouraging their artistic talents and showcasing their artwork worldwide, turning them into international celebrities in the process.
Jacobson himself was a prolific, Yale-educated painter who produced Southwestern landscapes, exhibited throughout the United States and Europe, founded the Association of Oklahoma Artists, was made an honorary chief of the Kiowa tribe, and was inducted into the Oklahoma Hall of Fame. His personal art collection became the foundation of OU’s Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art.
The Kiowa 6 artists hailed from towns in and around the tribe’s headquarters in Anadarko. James Auchiah, Spencer Asah, Jack Hokeah, Stephen Mopope, Monroe Tsatoke and Lois Smoky all have amazing personal stories. In addition to their artistic abilities, Hokeah, Mopope and Asah were celebrated tribal dancers, while Tsatoke was a bead worker and singer. Auchiah served in the U.S. Coast Guard during World War II, and his home town of Medicine Park is now a communal center for Native American art.
Smokey, as the only woman, faced an even more challenging path. Because Kiowa tribal custom frowned upon female artists, Smokey eventually married and gave up painting to focus on her family. Ironically, her work is the rarest of the group, and is thus the most sought after. In addition to their paintings, the Jacobson House today is home to more than 100 works of art by more than 40 of Oklahoma’s most renowned Native American artists.
Unlike many museums, if you removed the paintings from its walls, the Jacobson House would still qualify as a work of art, and it’s on both the National Register of Historic Places and the Oklahoma Historical Society’s Landmarks List. In 1916, Jacobson and his wife, Jeanne d’Urcel, chose a design for their home that was heavily influenced by his Swedish roots and their mutual love of art and entertaining. Covered with stucco–a popular home exterior finish in Sweden at the time–Swedish scrollwork and motifs can be found throughout. The main room boasts Grecian columns, and there are large windows in each room. These served a two-fold purpose of providing light for working artists, plus drawing the residents closer to the scenic outdoors.
The back of the home contains a broad porch that was used for stage plays, drum circles and other social gatherings that drew people from all around the globe. That tradition continues, as the Jacobson House hosts ongoing art shows, poetry readings, language classes, pottery classes, drumming and singing circles.
Preserving the legacy of Oscar Jacobson and the Kiowa 6 is a mission that burns deep for Daniel Brackett, chairman of the board of the Jacobson Foundation. As the home celebrates its 100th year, he and the center staff are making an all-out push to draw in visitors, raise funds and boost public awareness.
Brackett said the center today is receiving strong support from the university and surrounding community. The Jacobson House is primarily funded through art sales, but also has received grants from the Norman Arts Council and the Oklahoma Arts & Humanities Council for specific programs. On Nov. 5, the group will hold its major annual fundraiser, the Pony Moon Gala. Tickets for the event are $75. More information is available by calling 380.8236.