Acee Blue Eagle
Acee Blue Eagle’s Creek name, Che-bon-Ah-be-la, translates into English as “Laughing Boy” but the tragedies of Blue Eagle’s early years were no laughing matter. Originally named Alexander C. McIntosh, his twin brother died shortly after birth. Acee’s mother, Martha Odom McIntosh, died when he was a toddler. His father, William Solomon McIntosh, was grandson of Chillicothe McIntosh, a chief of the Creek Nation and a descendent of Captain John McIntosh who left the Scottish Highlands in 1736 to settle in Georgia. McIntosh County, in eastern Oklahoma, is named for the family. Blue Eagle’s father died when he was eight and he was sent to live with his grandparents. But, they too, died within a few years. He attended the Nuyaka Indian boarding School near Bristow and Haskell Institute in Lawrence, Kansas before transferring to the Chilocco Indian School, where he graduated in 1926. It was at Chilocco that he began to paint in earnest. He also learned to play the flute and took part in traditional dances, and made his own dance regalia.
As an adult, he adopted his mother’s family name. “My mother’s name was Blue Eagle. She was Pawnee and Wichita. An Indian tradition gives children the name of their mother’s clan. I like to preserve that tradition.”
Blue Eagle enrolled in Bacone College in the fall of 1928, where he served as art editor of the Bacone Indian, sketching cartoons and designing the paper’s arrowhead seal. He became acquainted with artist Nan Sheets, page 129, who encouraged him to meet Oscar Jacobson of the University of Oklahoma, page 130. The following year, Blue Eagle transferred to the University of Oklahoma. In 1931, his work was displayed at the Exposition of Indian Tribal Arts in New York City and featured in the New York Times.
The pieces in the Judicial Center Collection date to this period in Blue Eagle’s career. Sun Dance, Buffalo Hunt and Snake Dance were all donated to the Oklahoma Historical Society in 1960 by Mr. Leslie McRill. McRill was a frequent contributor to The Chronicles of Oklahoma and was named Oklahoma Poet Laureate in 1970.
In May 1932, Blue Eagle completed his bachelor of fine arts degree at the University of Oklahoma. After graduation, he participated in numerous art exhibitions around the country: at the Los Angeles Olympic Games, at the Chicago Century of Progress and at the National Exhibition of Art at Rockefeller Center & Museum of Modern Art in New York City.
In 1934, he began painting murals as a part of the Works Progress Administration’s Public Works of Art Project. Interviews he gave at the time explain Blue Eagle’s philosophy about his art. “I am interested in recording the story of my ancestors which will soon be forgotten unless immediate steps are taken.”
In the summer of 1935, Blue Eagle traveled to Europe. He performed in full regalia for the Queen Mother and Princesses Elizabeth and lectured at Oxford, selling paintings throughout Europe. Upon returning to Oklahoma, Blue Eagle founded the art department at Bacone College and taught there from 1935 to 1938.
During World War II, Blue Eagle served in the Army Air Corps. He continued painting, leaving behind murals and holding exhibitions at duty stations across the country. After being discharged, he traveled, living for a time in Chicago, Santa Fe and New York City, where he was commissioned to paint murals in the Indonesian Embassy.
Always experimenting with new mediums and techniques, in the 1940s, Blue Eagle began doing silkscreen to make more than one copy of the original painting. He also worked with copper plates and wood blocks. He returned to school at Okmulgee A&M Tech to learn leather work in 1952, he was named artist-in-residence and began teaching there.
In the fall of 1954, the opportunity to share his message with a wider audience came when KTVX, a Tulsa-Muskogee station asked him to host an afternoon children’s show. Chief Blue Eagle broadcast daily before a live audience and also featured a drawing/painting kit for children watching at home. Blue Eagle told Native legends while he painted in the television studio.
Blue Eagle was named Outstanding American Indian of 1958, the same year he was commissioned to design a set of glassware for Knox Oil Company to be given away as promotion items to customers. He saw the glasses as another way to share Native history with the public. Featured leaders included Hen-toh of the Wyandot tribe, Ruling His Sun of the Pawnee tribe, Apache leader Geronimo, Quanah Parker of the Comanche tribe see page 68, Dull Knife of the Cheyenne tribe, Osage Chief Bacon Rind, see page 71, Hunting Horse of the Kiowa tribe and Cherokee syllabary creator Sequoyah see page 20. Each glass included a brief historical sketch of the figure depicted. Knox flew Blue Eagle to speaking engagements around the state to promote the tumblers and the oil company, giving him additional opportunities to share Native culture with the public. The same year, he also began working in ceramics and finished a book about Native artists: Oklahoma Indian Painting and Poetry.
His work can be found in the Denver Art Museum, the Gilcrease Museum, the Bureau of Indian Affairs in Washington, D.C., as well as murals at the Seminole Post Office and Bacone College in Muskogee. All of Blue Eagle’s pieces in the Oklahoma Judicial Center collection are on permanent loan from the Oklahoma Historical Society. Pictured on the next pages are Buffalo Hunt and Sundance.
Source: New York Times, November 29, 1931, August 1, 1935; The Oklahoman, August 15, 1937; Chronicles of Oklahoma, vol. 38, no. 1, p. 115, no. 2, pp. 205-207, vol. 39, no. 1, pp. 80-84; Elder, Tamara Liegerot: Lumhee Holot-Tee: the art and life of Acee Blue Eagle, Edmond, Okla.: Medicine Wheel Press, 2006.