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Kiowa Family / Lois Smokey, 1907 - February 1, 1981, Native American; Kiowa (Artist)

Essay/Description

Bou-ge-Tah’s true-to-life scenes provide an autoethnographic narrative of her experiences of Kiowa (Cáuigù)1 life, and her boldly delineated portraits are distinguished for their articulation of Kiowa social reality. Kiowa Family; Kiowa Mother & Children is in the Kiowa style, in which figures and forms are depicted without shading; this style has roots in the ledger art of the 1880s and Indigenous Plains region pictorial art. Bou-ge-Tah’s works focalize family relationships from a female perspective: the artist met many of her subjects through kinship connections, having been raised in her Indigenous community on ancestral territories in southwest Oklahoma.

Kiowa Family depicts a Kiowa (Cáuigù) family of noble status, evident from their regalia, adornments, and beadwork. The woman’s vividly painted and beaded buckskin dress exemplifies the sophisticated art of late nineteenth-century Kiowa dressmaking. The complex beadwork adds an ornamental textile layer to her garment, and the lavish beadwork designs are indicative of her husband’s prosperity within the pre-reservation-era trade economy of the mid-nineteenth century. The red wool sash around her waist follows the Kiowa custom of fashioning war trophies into wearable pieces. Sashes such as this were part of the uniform of post–Civil War era U.S.military captains, and they (and objects like them) were ceremonially collected by Kiowa as symbols of victory.2 The mother’s cheeks and scalp, and the children’s cheeks ,would have been adorned with stone pigment paint.

The son, standing in the lower right corner, is formally dressed in a Kiowa boy’s buckskin top, beaded and painted buckskin leggings, and braintanned moccasins. Protecting his vital organs is a breastplate composed of carved-bone bugle beads that indicate his patrilineal descendancy. The daughter is seen peeking out behind her mother’s skirt. She is dressed formally in a tailored and beaded buckskin dress, signaling her familial role as “Auday Mawtahn,” or favored daughter. The family’s finery and regalia dates back to an era of Kiowa abundance, before hunting and subsistence living was banned by the U.S. government in the 1870s. Although the father is not depicted, he is highly visible through the adornment and clothing in Kiowa Family. During times of war, which Bou-ge-Tah’s parents survived, men of the warrior class left the Nation for the duration of a battle, providing a protective distance from the women, children, and elderly.

Kiowa Family is a rare example from the artist’s brief yet highly successful painting career. Bou-ge-Tah, also known as Lois Smokey and later as Lois Smokey Kaulaity, was the only woman in the Kiowa Six artist collective. Bou-ge-Tah’s artwork contributed to the development of what became known as the Kiowa style of painting, which radically impacted Indigenous North American art techniques throughout the twentieth and twenty-first centuries.3

The Gilcrease collection also includes Bou-ge-Tah’s Mother and Two Children (15.1219), a pochoir print created from this tempera painting.

—Jordan Poorman Cocker, Henry Luce Foundation Curatorial Scholar for Indigenous Painting Collection Research, 2020

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1 Note: I use Kiowa instead of Cáuigù here as an acknowledgment of the artist’s title choice. The identity Kiowa versus Cáuigù has shifted from one era to another. Bou-ge-Tah’s use of Kiowa to refer to her subjects places her work on a time line of Tribal governance that reflects the impact of linguistics in self-identity.
2 Meadows, Kiowa Military Societies, 174.
3 Szabo, review of Painting Culture, Painting Nature, 97–98.

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Title(s): 
Kiowa Family; Kiowa Mother & Children
Creator(s): 
Lois Smokey, 1907 - February 1, 1981, Native American; Kiowa (Artist)
Culture: 
Native American; Kiowa
Date: 
circa 1936
Materials/Techniques: 
tempera on paper
Classification: 
Object Type: 
Accession No: 
02.264
Previous Number(s): 
0227.264; 27492
Department: 
Signed by hand in tempera, "Bou-ge-Tah Smoky" in lower right on recto; Handwritten notes are present on artwork.
Not On View

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