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Game of Skill / Stephen Mopope, August 27, 1898 - February 1974, Native American; Kiowa (Artist)

Essay/Description

The scene depicts a game of skill and strength in which athletes throw arrows by hand into an open field, trying to achieve the greatest distance. The setting is a promenade at the village center of a Kiowa (Cáuigù)1 encampment within the Wichita Mountains in southwest Oklahoma, the traditional territory of the Kiowa and Comanche Nations. The image of a Kiowa community at leisure and ease contrasts with the stark colonial reality of the post-reservation era. The political climate had reached new lows for Indigenous nations after the General Allotment Act of 1887, under which the federal government greatly reduced reservation lands, redistributing small portions to individual Native Americans. When this painting was completed in 1933, the Wichita Mountains had already been seized by the U.S. government and made a national forest (1907); in 1936, Congress designated it the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge.

Game of Skill marks a shift in Stephen Mopope’s painting style, from the Kiowa Style or Flatstyle painting toward Neo-Impressionism with elements of realism. The brightly colored prairie grass is punctuated by tall tipi homes on the right and left of the composition. The yellow and golden-green hues capture the interplay of sunlight and clouds over the prairie. In the distance, a small herd of horses is grazing.

Men, gathered as spectators, are modestly dressed in blankets. Their vividly colored regalia, however, contrasts with and complements the natural environment. Mopope’s decision to emphasize the billowy clouds and azure mountain range beyond the encampment provides a glimpse of the intimate and lifelong relationship the artist had to his ancestral territory.

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

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

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Title(s): 
Game of Skill
Creator(s): 
Stephen Mopope, August 27, 1898 - February 1974, Native American; Kiowa (Artist)
Culture: 
Native American; Kiowa
Date: 
1933
Materials/Techniques: 
oil on canvas
Classification: 
Object Type: 
Credit Line: 
Gift of the Thomas Gilcrease Foundation, 1964
Accession No: 
01.2014
Previous Number(s): 
0127.2014; 23230
Department: 
Signed by hand in paint, "Mopope '33." in lower right on recto.
Not On View

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