Canadian River

Oscar Brousse Jacobson

Oscar Jacobson painted this landscape in 1953, the year before he stepped down as director of the University of Oklahoma’s School of Art. Later in the 1950s, Jacobson was involved in a unique effort to bring art into people’s homes. For a time, the Oklahoma Art Center included a “lending gallery” that allowed customers to rent paintings for a few months, then either return or purchase them. Rental prices started at $1 per month, on a 1/50 scale based on the purchase price, i.e. a $50 painting would rent for $1, a $100 painting for $2 and so on. After three months, the renter was obligated to return or purchase the painting. If the customer decided they wanted to buy, their rental payments applied to the purchase price. The lending gallery was established by Nan Sheets, see page 129. Articles about the lending gallery tout the “Oklahoma scapes” of Jacobson among the popular paintings rented from the gallery.

The subject of this particular “Oklahoma scape” is the Canadian River. From the mound-building Native Americans of the Mississippian period, who relied on its water for their agriculture, to the seventeenth century Spanish explorers who followed the waterway, through the mapmakers of today, the Canadian River has played a significant role in the area now known as Oklahoma. Following the discovery of gold in California, the Canadian River became a route used by many seeking their fortune. An estimated 20,000 passed through the area in 1849 on their journey west.

Clifford Jackson

Oscar Brousse Jacobson

Oscar Brousse Jacobson’s family immigrated to Lindsborg, Kansas from Sweden when he was eight years old. After receiving a bachelor’s degree from Bethany College in Lindsborg, Jacobson returned to Europe to study art at the Louvre in Paris. He continued his education with a master of fine arts from Yale University in 1916 and a doctorate of fine arts from Bethany College in 1941. A driving force of early twentieth century art in Oklahoma, Jacobson served as the director of the University of Oklahoma’s School of Art from 1915 until 1954.

Jacobson mentored several Native American artists at the University of Oklahoma, including the Kiowa Six, Acee Blue Eagle and Woody Crumbo. The Kiowa Six artists first came to Jacobson’s attention in 1925. At the time, they were “working at manual labor” to support themselves and their families and only “painting in their spare moments.” Jacobson knew the financial aspect had to be addressed so the artists could focus on creating. “I supported them during the first year by buying their work. Then we succeeded in interesting Mr. L.H. Wentz of Ponca City; he supplied them with a modest stipend from January to May 1927.” Wentz was quite successful in the oil industry in the 1920s. “Free from economic worries, they literally threw themselves into their art and produced with diligence, industry, and enthusiasm. The results were simply amazing.”

Jacobson worked to promote their work. “I arranged exhibitions of their paintings in many of the distinguished museums of this country, from Hawaii, to San Francisco, Seattle, Minneapolis, Kansas City, Cleveland, New York, even abroad. The work of these first Kiowas created quite a sensation and was acclaimed as the most interesting part of the American section at the International Art Exhibition in Prague, Czechoslovakia, in 1929.” The European show prompted publication of a portfolio of the Kiowa artists’ work by a French publisher.

“A copy of this publication found its way into the hands of Mr. John Collier, then Commissioner of Indian Affairs,” Jacobson wrote. “Collier was an idealist who had sympathy for the Indian, understanding of his culture and tolerance for his religion. He examined the beautiful reproductions carefully and read my introductory text twice.”

Jacobson took great pride in the result of his work with the Kiowa artists. “It is believed that the work done with our Oklahoma Indians by Miss Mahier and myself had much to do with the complete change in Indian Art education subsequently made by the Department of Indian Affairs. The Indian Service became for a while a true patron of all the arts…My humble part in this awakening is one of the happiest professional experiences in my long teaching career. I was proud to invite and encourage the young Indians to contribute to our culture and in their own way.” Recognizing the importance of his contributions to the tribe, the Kiowas made Jacobson an honorary chief.

In the 1930s, Jacobson helped establish the Works Progress Administration’s Federal Art Project in Oklahoma. The Monroe Tsatoke murals on the third floor were originally created under the auspice of this project. See page 152. Jacobson also founded the Association of Oklahoma Artists.

Jacobson painted primarily landscapes, like the Canadian River piece. The portrait of Clifford Jackson is a departure from his usual subjects. His works have been exhibited throughout the United States and Europe, garnering many awards, including a gold medal at the 1931 Mid-Western Exhibition at the Kansas City Art Institute Invitational. He gave lectures at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and the Chicago Art Institute, as well as more than fifty universities across the country. He was inducted into the Oklahoma Hall of Fame in 1949.

Clifford Jackson was born November 25, 1857, in Dayton, Ohio. He served as president of the Indian Territory Bar Association in 1903 and the Oklahoma State Bar Association in 1907. In 1909, he served as Vice President of the American Bar Association. His legal career in Indian Territory began in 1893, when he was appointed as United States District Attorney. He also served as president of the Muskogee Commercial Club 1907-08 and was a member of the Muskogee Town and Country Club.

Jacobson’s portrait evokes the passions of Jackson’s life, the background echoes case law books, a staple of every early twentieth century attorney’s office. The rooster in the painting harkens to Jackson’s hobby – he founded the Oklahoma State Poultry Federation and served as its president in 1914. In 1917, he was successful in convincing the Legislature to provide funding for annual poultry shows in every county. Jackson died on April 14, 1921, in Muskogee, Oklahoma. Canadian River was purchased for the Oklahoma Judicial Center, while the Clifford Jackson portrait is on permanent loan from the Oklahoma Historical Society.