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Lois Bougetah Smoky, Kiowa Artist Ahead Of Her Time

Lester Harragarra

The Jacobson House in Norman is currently exhibiting work from the only female member of the Kiowa Five, Lois Bougetah Smoky. The Kiowa Five were a group of Kiowa artists that were brought to the University of Oklahoma by Oscar Jacobson, the first Director of the OU Art School.

Heather Ahtone (Chickasaw/Choctaw) is theJames T Bialac Assistant Curator of Native American and Non- western Art at theFred Jones Junior Museum of Art at the University of Oklahoma.  Ahtone recently gave a talk about Lois Smoky. I asked her to tell me about Lois Smoky, perhaps the least known of the Kiowa Five.

“Lois Smoky was part of that first group of five students, Kiowa students, who came to the University of Oklahoma in 1927. They were all young, she was the youngest. The rest were all male. She was the only young lady,” Ahtone said.

“And the courage that it took for her as a Kiowa woman to come to the university of Oklahoma when at that time the Kiowa people were in transition from tipi to tar paper homes, were still in that transition of going from horses to using cars,” Ahtone said.

“People lived close to their families but also recognizing that there was some practicality to moving closer to Anadarko, or some of the other larger communities,” Ahtone said.

“So these students come into an environment and we have to think about that, for them as a cultural group, as representatives of a cultural group. But also to think about that in the scope of what it was to be going to a higher education institution at that time for a young woman, whether she was Kiowa or not.”

In those days, Ahtone said coming to college was largely a premise for meeting a husband and making a woman into a good partner to a well-educated man. 

“So coming to college in the 1920's for women was less about some of the parameters that one might think of now of young ladies who come to college in order to become leaders and such,” Ahtone said. 

Lois Smoky entered into this world of higher education, but on her family’s terms, as would befit a young Kiowa woman in good standing.

“In order for Lois to come to OU, her family had to support it and her mother had to come with her. It was because her mother came with her that the Kiowa Five were put into an off-campus house. That house was rented by Lois Smoky's family because the University could not allow her mother to live in the dormitories,” Ahtone said.

“Since she was living off campus, the other Kiowa men chose to live off campus too. In that way, they could have the treatment as Kiowa men of having a Kiowa woman prepare food and the cultural environment in this little microcosm of the Kiowa community that migrated into Norman just in that moment of time and so, Lois' mother becomes sort of a mother to all these other men as well.” 

Lois Smoky’s work from this time is rare.

“They are also the most valuable on the market because they're the most hardest to find. Fred Jones owns, I believe its five works, two of them are originals and three are Pochoir prints that come from the Kiowa Art Book that is published by Jacobson in France of the artist's work. There are reproductions that exist out there,” Ahtone said.

“As far as originals, I don't know if any of the Kiowa Five artists, or Six, if there is a finite number of how many works they produced. I know they worked in materials that you might not consider as necessarily art materials. They used often butcher paper, craft paper,” Ahtone said.

“Most of the paintings were done in tempura which has no archival qualities at all. In fact, it’s a big challenge now that when you have an original, that you know, all art is at some point degrading. Unfortunately the works that the Kiowa artists did when they came in the 1920's is degrading very quickly because the materials they were using were not set to last for very long.”

Against all odds, the work not meant to last very long…has.

A show of the work of Lois Smoky is currently on display at the Jacobson House Native Art Center. 

Tracy Satepauhoodle Mikannen (Kiowa/Caddo), Director of the Jacobson House, has put together a War Mothers Dance that will take place next Friday to honor Smoky’s place in Kiowa art history.

Credit Lauren Bivens White
Tracy Satepauhoodle Mikannen

“This dance is in celebration of Lois Smoky, the Trailblazer and Traditionalist exhibit,” Mikannen said.

“It honors Lois Bougetah Smoky, who was part of the original Kiowa Five. Lois Smoky's sister was very instrumental in founding the Kiowa War Mothers and that’s why it’s significant and that’s why we are going to have them come and also join in with the Victory Club,” Mikannen said.

“We are also showing a DVD made by the late Evans Ray Satepauhoodle about the language, the song and he also explains a little bit about the Kiowa War Mothers and the Kiowa Victory Club and then something called the Purple Heart Club. This is in conjunction with the Second Friday Art Walk.”

They will also be joined by Sigma Nu Alpha Gamma, the Native American fraternity at the University of Oklahoma.

Next Friday, October 11th, events at the Jacobson House will start at 6pm followed by a traditional Kiowa meal, the public is invited.

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