By David Dary
Oscar Brousse Jacobson was 32 when he moved to Oklahoma to head the School of Fine Arts at the University of Oklahoma in Norman. There he spent the rest of his life focusing world attention on Indian art.
Jacobson’s story began with his birth in Sweden on May 16, 1882. In 1890, whenhe was eight, he came to America with his parents who settled at Lindsborg, Kansas. He graduated from high school and entered Bethany College in Lindsborg. He studied under Birger Sandzen, who became an internationally known artist. Jacobson graduated in 1908.
During the next five years Jacobson taught at Minneapolis College of Art and Design and at the state college of Washington. During the first half of 1915, he studied at the Louvre in Paris. When he returned to the United States, he was hired as director of the School of Art and art museum at the University of Oklahoma in Norman.
Years later he recalled, “There wasn’t much to direct.”
After a year at OU, he took leave and completed a master of fine arts degree at Yale in 1916 and returned to Norman.
Jacobson, who was tall, distinguished and very courteous, designed and built a home in Norman located at 609 Chautauqua Ave. He also began to reshape the academic style of art study at OU with a fresh attitude and the palette of the French moderns.
n the late 1920s, something happened that forever changed Jacobson and the study of art.
Less than 60 miles west of Norman at Anadarko, Sister Olivia Taylor, a Choctaw, began teaching art to Kiowa Indian students at a mission school operated by St. Patrick’s Catholic church.
Susie Peters, a woman working for the Indian agency in Anadarko, saw their art and was impressed/ Peters organized an art club encouraging the students to memorialize the Kiowa culture in their drawings. She sent some of the drawings to Oscar Jacobson at OU in 1926.
He was fascinated with what he saw. Their art was flat with ground planes of color. Jacobson invited the Indians to become special students at OU. Six Kiowa students – five boys and one girl -- came to study with Jacobson. They were James Auchiah (1906-
1975), Spencer Asah (1905/1910-1954), Jack Hokeah (1902-1969), Stephen Mopope (1898-1974), Monroe Tsatoke (1904-1937 who was also known as “Hunting Horse”) and Lois Smokey (1907-1981).
Smokey’s parents rented a large home in Norman where all of the Kiowa students lived while they studied at OU.
The five boys became known as the “Kiowa Five.” While Lois Smokey’s art was included in nearly all of the early exhibits, she has not received the credit she deserves in the story of what became known as the Kiowa Five.
Jacobson provided the students with art supplies and studio space. He also provided them with a monthly stipend for their living expenses. He ignored suggestions that the Kiowa artists be taught to draw in a more European manner.
During the 1920s and ‘30s, Jacobson’s home became a meeting place for artists from Norman, Taos and Santa Fe who were shaking up the art world. At the same time Jacobson developed a market for Indian art that became known as the “Oklahoma
In time, 31 Kiowa artists came to Norman to study under Jacobson. He circulated their watercolors widely throughout the United States. In 1928 their works were featured at the
International Art Congress at Prague, Czechoslovakia.
The Prague exhibit resulted in another showing in Paris. Newspapers in Paris, London and elsewhere praised the art. Their works received so much attention that it was next included in an exhibition of Southwest art in New York City. The Kiowa Five became celebrities in the art world.
Oscar Jacobson’s classes for Indian artists and those developed at the Santa Fe Indian School marked the beginning of the institutionalization of Indian painting. Jacobson lectured widely for the U.S. Park Service During the 1930s depression, he acted as a
technical advisor for President Franklin Roosevelt’s Public Works of Art project in Oklahoma.
Three Kiowa – Hokesh, Asah and Mopope – participated in the Intertribal Indian Ceremonies in New Mexico in 1930. Mopope, Auchish and Asah painted sixteen murals on the upper walls of the Anadarko Post Office in 1936 and ’37.
The works of the Kiowa Five and other Indians are today highly collectable. So are more than 500 landscape paintings that capture with simplicity the grandeur and dignity of the American West.
Jacobson, then about 63, retired from OU in 1945, but from his home on the northwest side of the campus he and his wife Jeanne d’ Ucel continued to encourage the development of Indian art.
In 1951, the University honored Jacobson by naming the building housing the art
museum for him. Today Jacobson Hall is the visitor’s center. Oscar B. Jacobson died Sept. 15, 1966 at age 84. His home, now owned by the
University, was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1986. Today the Jacobson House Native Art Center is used to exhibit Native America art and stands as a symbol of Native American art as a medium that speaks to the spirit of every person.
By David Dary
The little things
With 3:01 to play and the Oklahoma women trailing Baylor 72-68 Sunday afternoon, the teams came out of a timeout and Sooner forward Ashley Paris walked to the free-throw line to shoot twice.
Here’s some of what happened the rest of the way.
- Oklahoma ingenuity spawned dozens of inventions
- David Payne refused to accept denied access to Indian lands
- Bill Tilghman made his name chasing outlaws
- Pneumonia launched musical career of Kay Starr
- Oklahoma rivers were early means of transport, trade
- Woody Guthrie pioneered American folk music
- Pioneers realized early need for electric power
- The '101' became a legendary Oklahoma institution
- 'Black Gold' discovery altered Oklahoma landscape
- More Centennial Headlines
- The little things With 3:01 to play and the Oklahoma women trailing Baylor 72-68 Sunday afternoon, the teams came out of a timeout and Sooner forward Ashley Paris walked to the free-throw line to shoot twice.