Monroe Tsatoke was a member of the Kiowa tribe and served as chief singer for many of the tribe’s ceremonies. His love of music carried over to his paintings, which often included dancers and musicians. Tsatoke learned not only Kiowa songs and dances, but also the music of other tribes, as depicted in Sioux Buffalo Dancer. His mentor, Oscar Jacobson wrote about Tsatoke’s love of music. “Music was the core of his being; it animated his painting with a subtle sense of rhythm and harmony.”
Tsatoke studied at Bacone College in Muskogee and later at the University of Oklahoma with Jacobson. See page 130. By this time, Tsatoke was already married, and his wife, Martha, moved with him to the university. “In Norman, Tsatoke worked hard at his art, responding with all his spirit to the sympathy he found in his teachers,” Jacobson wrote. “He painted first the things he knew, the rituals, the games of his people. Then, wanting to enlarge the scope of his subject and to bring back the almost forgotten past, he began a study of Indian history.” Tsatoke later became involved in the Native American Church and created a number of paintings exploring his religious experiences, as depicted in Member of the Peyote Clan.
Working under the guidance of Jacobson, Tsatoke was commissioned to paint murals for the Oklahoma Historical Society, part of the Public Works of Art Project. He made sketches and planned ten separate panels to be painted directly on the building’s walls. With this project, Tsatoke shared his knowledge of Native American history, including figures from different tribes at different points in history. He may have also been making a subtle political statement by including the Secotan, a tribe that had essentially vanished.
At the height of his art career, Tsatoke’s health declined when he developed tuberculosis. He completed paintings of six Native American individuals depicting different tribes and time periods and two of his family shields on the walls of the third floor of the Historical Society, now the Oklahoma Judicial Center. After Tsatoke died in 1937, fellow Kiowa artist Spencer Asah completed the two remaining panels. See page 153.
In describing Native painters, Tsatoke wrote, “By his art he strives to express his own concept of the divine creator…Living so close to nature has taught him to appreciate to the utmost the brilliant colors of the sunrise and sunset; the green of the forest, and all vegetation in the springtime. The blossoms of the summer flowers, the autumn colors of the leaves as they send out their last challenge to the summer, and the beautiful ‘Bow of Promise’ was never more appreciated by the descendants of Noah than by the Indians.”
Tsatoke’s works are included in the collections of the Museum of the American Indian in New York, the Heard Museum in Phoenix, as well as the Gilcrease and the Philbrook Museums. These are on permanent loan from the Oklahoma Historical Society.
Source: Tsatoke, Monroe, The Peyote Ritual, Grabhorn Press, San Francisco, 1957; “Early Kiowa Art,” Oklahoma Today, Winter 1972; “Inheritance from Hard Times,” Oklahoma Today, November-December 1984; St. Patrick’s Mission, Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture; “American Indian Exposition,” Oklahoma Today, July-August 1990; Oscar B. Jacobson Manuscript Collection, Box J-13, Folder 42.