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Play explores history, art legacy left by 'Kiowa Five'



More than 80 years ago, Oscar Jacobson invited a small group of American Indian artists to study at the University of Oklahoma.

His decision uncovered a new style of American art, and the small group of renowned artists later became known throughout the world as the "Kiowa Five."

Norman's Jacobson House, 609 Chautauqua, will bring those events back to life Friday with "The Jacobson House, 1930," a performance that will have the "Kiowa Five" and Jacobson sharing firsthand accounts of their lives, art and personal history here in Oklahoma.

In 1916, Jacobson was serving as the director of the OU School of Art. During this time, Susie Ryan Peters was working at the Kiowa reservation for the United States Indian Service. Although she was told to teach the Kiowa patriotic American songs and how to clean house, she encouraged them to paint images of their cultural heritage by paying for private art lessons.

Thanks to Peters, the Kiowa artists were admitted to St. Patrick's Mission School in Anadarko, where they continued to receive art lessons and earned their high school diplomas.

The "Kiowa Five" were brought to OU in 1927, and Jacobson took their paintings to the convention of the American Federation of the Arts in Denver later that year. In 1928, he organized an exhibition of their work for the First International Art Exposition in Prague, Czechoslovakia. The show would become one of the most important exhibitions in the history of native art, and it exposed the Kiowa artists to the international art world before they had even gained recognition in their home state.

"The 'Kiowa Five' were the first American Indian artists to get any sort of international recognition in the fine art arena around the world," said Russ Tallchief, director of arts and exhibitions for the American Indian Cultural Center and Museum. "They really laid down the foundation for what contemporary native art is today."

Tallchief wrote the play, and served as Jacobson House director from 2005-2008. He said he feels an intimate connection to the site because of his heritage and history with the center.

"I felt like I lived in that period because my entire emphasis was focused on the 1920s and 1930s," he said. "To me, recreating that time is a fascinating concept, and we've gotten great response from the announcement of the play. It seems that other people have that sense of nostalgia about the Jacobson House because it represents such an important period in history: the genesis of contemporary native art in Oklahoma."

Jin Gentry, Jacobson House director, said the center has been working on the idea of an art performance since last year.

"We kind of conceived of the idea with Russ when we were brainstorming and started thinking how cool it would be to have a night where we could have people interact with the Jacobson artists," she said. "We've got journals that Oscar Jacobson's wife wrote, so we can know what might have been happening around what time and when."

"?James Lovett


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