The Art of Museum-Hopping

Today was long. We hit 4 museums in 8 hours: first, at 10:00, the Fred Jones museum on the OU campus, where we were given a lovely tour (and a lot of important information, which we caught on film) by Dr. White, a self-described Oklahoma art specialist. That museum is almost as beautiful as the Cowboy museum we visited yesterday – and that’s saying something.

Next we rushed over to the Jacobson House, which is, thankfully, also very near the OU campus. We were meeting Tom Poolaw, a famous Kiowa artist whom Professor M-L knows. We talked over Indian tacos (it was Taco Tuesday; I don’t want to say that was the reason we scheduled our visit for a Tuesday, but…), while I tried to steady my little camera on top of a water bottle with one hand as I ate with the other.

That was probably the most simple and fun part of the day. The Jacobson belonged to Oscar Jacobson, the Art Director at OU who agreed to take on the Kiowa Five as students, even though they weren’t technically qualified to be in college. They were really taught by Edith Mahier, but Jacobson did a lot to further their fame; he published the portfolio that made them famous, and arranged for a lot of their paintings to be sold. He also wrote a heap of literature about them, and the other native Oklahoma artists that he “encouraged.” But we’ll get to documentation in a moment.

After eating, we explored the gift shop, and Zac discovered two gorgeous reproductions of posters advertising exhibits of the Kiowa Five (these were years after they were all painting together – their exhibits went on for a long time after the group split up). Professor M-L decided to buy us each one as a gift, which was incredibly nice of her. I can’t wait to have it hanging in my room in the fall!

After making our purchases, Zac and Jade and I interviewed a young Cheyenne artist named Michael Elizondo, an OU graduate who has his paintings hanging at the Jacobson House, and has exhibited in other museums too. He was diffident, I thought, but he told us a lot. Then we went outside and took a picture in front of a wall where, decades and decades ago, the Kiowa Five also took a photo (the original of which is still M.I.A.). So that was really cool. And then, just as we were getting ready to leave, Tom Poolaw introduced the professor to Mr. Littleman, who, along with his son (or son-in-law?) told us about being modern Kiowa dancers. They travel around the country, as well as to different countries, to perform. He also gave us the Kiowa word for memory (he both wrote it and said it for my camera)! This is very exciting, because we’ve been bugging various Kiowa language experts to give us this word for months. We’re going to use it in the title of the exhibit, probably. So that was a very productive, if unexpected, interview.

Next we drove off to the Sam Noble Museum of Natural History, where we got to explore the Native Peoples of Oklahoma exhibit. It traces the Native Americans in the Plains area from the time of Clovis points (for you non-anthropologists, that’s early – pretty much right after humans crossed over the Bering Land Bridge from Asia) to the 21st century. There wasn’t as much Kiowa material culture as I’d’ve liked to see, but that makes sense. The Kiowa were originally a northern plains tribe; they lived as far north as Canada around the time of the first European contact in the south. Like a lot of tribes currently in Oklahoma, they were moved into the area (then called Indian Territory) in the 1800s and no longer aloud to roam around like they used to. Before that happened, most southern plains tribes would raid as far south as Mexico, and would go deep into the northern plains too. But of course the U.S. government couldn’t have that. They had to know where everybody was at all times, so they penned them up in their own private territory. Of course that failed too, because those voracious American settlers just couldn’t keep their hands off “uncivilized” land. OU’s mascot, the “Sooners,” get their name from the settlers that entered Indian Territory before it became the state of Oklahoma in 1907. OU was founded in 1898, if that’s any indication of how little the U.S. government’s mandate meant to people.

Woah, sorry for the tangent. I was talking about Sam Noble. It was a very pretty, bright, well-organized museum as well. I’m beginning to think all Oklahoma museums are just amazing.

Next we raced over to the Western Heritage Library at OU and tore (not literally – we do know how to treat primary documents) through two collections: the Soule photographs (featuring late 19th century plains Indians) and the collection of Jacobson’s own papers. We found his biographies of the Kiowa Five, which we had photocopied because they’re so full of anecdotes and descriptions of their appearances. Some of the best quotes are:

“Spencer Asah is fat and round as a sack full of grain.”

“[Jack Hokeah] is as straight as a cavalry officer of the old school and owns the most magnificent pair of shoulders in Oklahoma.”

Moving on – we rushed from OU to the home of Professor M-L’s good family friends, who hosted us for dinner. The food was delicious, perhaps even more so because we’ve been eating restaurant food since we got here. For dessert we had chocolate meringue pie…I am going to have gained 10 pounds by the time I get home, but what can I do? Everything here tastes so good.

Back at the hotel, past 9:00, we read over some of the photocopied materials we’d gathered today, but the others didn’t last long. I don’t blame them; I’m exhausted too, and tomorrow’s trip to Anadarko isn’t going to do much for that. But tomorrow will be, I think, the most exhilarating day of the trip. We won’t be in a museum or in the archives. We’ll be at the Kiowa agency, far from big cities, out talking to Kiowa people, doing the realest kind of cultural anthropology I can think of.

All right. I’m going to upload my photos now, and then I’m calling it quits for the night. I can’t believe it’s only Tuesday.


Another statue on the OU campus (they’re everywhere). This one is called “May We Have Peace,” and features a Chiricahua Apache man with a peace pipe.

A reproduction of the photo of the Kiowa Five with Oscar Jacobson outside his house (taken at the Visitor’s Center of OU)…

…and here’s our version! If you look closely, you can see that we’re standing in front of the exact same door as the Kiowa Five did back in the 1930s!

This is a didactic panel at the Sam Noble Museum – I wanted all you fans out there (yeah right) to see how all these tribes (a lot of them not even plains tribes) got squeezed into this tiny state with limited resources that already had Indians in it (who, understandably, didn’t really feel like sharing their land with unrelated tribes). And then, on top of that, settlers wouldn’t leave them alone like the government had promised. And then, on top of that, after Oklahoma was a state, the government told the tribes they couldn’t hold their land in common, and alloted plots to families, and sold off the rest to whites for profit. And now they all complain that the Indians are getting rich off casinos when they most certainly are not. And even if they were – I think after all this they deserve a little success.

It must be the lateness of the hour that’s sending me off on these tangents. Bedtime.

About Rachel Isadore Steinberg

I'm Rachel. I'm a writer, a reader, a tea drinker, a tree climber, a dog lover, a journaler, a wonderer, a wanderer, an advocate, a believer, and a baker.
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