The Kiowa Six (more commonly known as the Kiowa Five) were artists from the Kiowa Tribe, who were Plains Indians located in western Oklahoma. The artists in the group are Jack Hokeah (1900–1969), Monroe Tsatoke (1904–37), Spencer Asah (1906– 54), James Auchiah (1906–74), and Stephen Mopope (1900–1974). The sixth member was a woman, Lois Smoky (1907–81). All the artists, except Tsatoke, were educated at the St. Patrick's Mission School near Anadarko, Oklahoma. The purpose of the federally mandated American Indian boarding and mission schools was to westernize Native American children and break them of their tribal traditions. Despite their Christian/European education and Anglicized first names, the members of the Kiowa Six held on to their Kiowa customs and moved back to their reservation after completing their education.
Susan Peters, the Kiowa agency field matron, supported the traditional artistic expressions of the Kiowa youth and formed an art club. In 1926, Peters encouraged the director of the University of Oklahoma’s art department, Swedish-American artist Oscar Jacobson, to create a special program for the Kiowa artists. Jacobson agreed and aside from providing studio space and supplies for the artists, he did not want to interfere or influence their tradition art forms and styles other than to be assisted with technical instruction from art professor Dr. Edith Mahler. The first five of the six, Hokeah, Tsatoke, Asah, Mopope, and Smoky moved to Norman, Oklahoma and lived in a house that Smoky’s parents rented for them. The next year, Smoky left and James Auchiah joined the group.
The style of their art originated in the hide and tipi paintings once used to record tribal events. The subjects are symbolic in nature, recording aspects of everyday life, important events, and religious beliefs. The figures in these paintings were drawn on a plain background. Within the lines flat layers of color were used as filler. It lacked depth but this technic was used because it held up in hide and tipi paintings. Now referred to as “flat style”, it became the most recognizable style of Native American art until the 1960s. Because of the flatness of the subjects, Kiowa-style paintings emphasize design.
Jacobson promoted the work of the Kiowa artists. In 1927, their work was shown at the Convention of the American Federation of Arts at the Denver Art Museum. The next year, thirty five of their watercolor paintings were entered into the First International Art Exposition in Prague, where they received international praise. After the exposition, Jacobson arranged to have their art travel to different shows throughout Europe and in 1929 he partnered with a French printer to produce reproductions of their work in a portfolio entitled Kiowa Art, which contains 30 plates of their work printed in the pochoir stenciling technique popular in the early part of the 20th century. The subjects of the Kiowa Art paintings are ceremonial and social scenes of Kiowa culture. Only 750 sets of Kiowa Art were produced.
In 1936, Mopope, with the assistance of Kiowa Five members James Auchiah and Spencer Asah, was commissioned by the Federal government to create 16 murals in the newly constructed post office in Anadarko, Oklahoma as part of the WPA. Mopope was also chosen to paint murals in the new Department of Interior building in Washington, DC, which was were the home office of the Bureau of Indian Affairs was located.
Jack Hokeah (1900–1969)
Monroe Tsatoke (1904–37)
Spencer Asah (1906– 54)
Stephen Mopope (1900–1974)
Lois Smoky (1907–81)
James Auchiah (1906–74)