Stephen Mopope was born into a family of artists. His great uncle, Silver Horn, produced more than one thousand illustrations in the form of calendars and tribal histories. Silver Horn taught his nephew to paint on animal hides and tipis. Mopope later took lessons from Sister Olivia at St. Patrick’s Mission School in Anadarko. He was nearly thirty he took the opportunity to study art with Oscar Jacobson at the University of Oklahoma in Norman. See page 130.
Mopope loved dancing almost as much as painting. During his lifetime he was considered to be one of the finest Kiowa dancers, repeatedly winning competitions. He was also an accomplished flute player. Jacobson considered dance and art natural companions. “It is no mere coincidence that the Indian artists are also distinguished dancers, for the sense of rhythm that is needed in one art is needed also in the other.”
Mopope’s love of dance and tribal ceremonies are reflected in many of his paintings, including Flute Dance, the two large murals in the second floor reception area. A Daily Oklahoman article published June 20, 1931, reported that Mopope had “recently completed his painting of two new mural decorations in the reading room of Southwestern State Teachers’ college library” (now Southwestern Oklahoma State University.)
At some point, the paintings were put into university storage. In the 1990s, art professor Patrick Riley found the forgotten canvases rolled up in a closet at Southwestern. See page 62. Recognizing Mopope’s bold signature, he took the pieces to the university president, Dr. Joe Anna Hibler, who had the murals mounted for display in the library once again. The pieces were later transferred by President John Hayer to the Historical Society’s collection. Conservation work was done to preserve the paintings prior to display at the Oklahoma Judicial Center.
These paintings were on display at Southwestern while Justice Kauger was a student there. She remembered them fondly and when she called Jeff Briley at the Oklahoma History Center to inquire if “he had any Mopopes,” he said, “Oh, do I have Mopopes.” Justice Kauger was stunned to rediscover them in the basement of the History Center.
Following the Kiowa exhibition in Prague, Czechoslovakia in 1929, Mopope’s art career flourished as he became the most prolific of the Kiowa Six. He was commissioned for works at the University of Oklahoma, the Federal Building in Muskogee and the U.S. Navy Hospital in Carville, Louisiana. His most ambitious project may be the sixteen panel mural depicting Kiowa life at the Anadarko Post Office. The piece remains intact and is accessible for public viewing.
Justice Noma Gurich has childhood memories of Mopope paintings in her family – her uncle, Raymond Brooks, owned the Pontiac dealership in Anadarko and Mopope once traded him four paintings for a used car. The Mopope paintings hung in the Brooks’ home for many years. In the 1950s, Mopope worked as a law enforcement officer. He also spent time teaching young Kiowas traditional tribal dances.
Mopope’s art is featured in public and private collections around the country, including the Smithsonian Institution, the Peabody Museum in Salem, Massachusetts, the Southwest Museum in Los Angeles and the Museum of New Mexico in Santa Fe.
Source: “Murals Completed in School Library,” The Oklahoman, June 20, 1931; Jacobson, O.B., American Indian Painters, C. Szwedzicki, Nice, France, 1950; University of Oklahoma Libraries, Western History Collection, Oscar B. Jacobson Collection, Box J-13, Folder 42; Jacobson House website jacobsonhouse.com/kiowa-five; Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture.