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Lois Smokey

Kiowa (Cáuigù)1 painter Bou-ge-Tah (“of the dawn”), whose English name was Lois Smokey, was born on April 8, 1907, on the Kiowa-Comanche-Apache Reservation in southwest Oklahoma. She was the daughter of Enoch Smokey and a relative of Chief Ahpeahtone (“wooden lance”). As a girl, Bou-ge-Tah attended St. Patrick’s Mission School, a federally mandated boarding school for Indigenous children near Anadarko, Oklahoma, where she was first exposed to European art techniques. Following her studies there, she traveled to the University of Oklahoma at the invitation of Professor Oscar Jacobson, along with four other Kiowa painters. The group would become known as the artist collective Kiowa Five, and later the Kiowa Six. Bou-ge-Tah was the only woman to join.

The collective’s paintings birthed a movement of Indigenous art known as Kiowa Style or Oklahoma Flatstyle, characterized by boldly delineated figures or forms in compositions that are often devoid of background. Bou-ge-Tah’s experience painting with the Kiowa art collective ultimately led her to her final artistic expression as a Kiowa beadworker, as she transformed the intricately detailed beadwork she had once depicted in her rare paintings into wearable art. Today Bou-ge-Tah’s paintings and beadwork are housed in private and public collections around the world, including Gilcrease Museum, the Heard Museum (Arizona), the National Museum of the American Indian (Washington, D.C.), and the Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art at the University of Oklahoma, among others. She died on February 1, 1981.

—Jordan Poorman Cocker, Henry Luce Foundation Curatorial Scholar for Indigenous Painting Collection Research, 2021

1 Cáuigù is the correct identity used by the Kiowa Tribe.