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ASAH, SPENCER (ca. 1905-1954)

Spencer Asah, Kiowa

Born near Carnegie, Oklahoma, circa 1905, Spencer Asah (Lallo, Little Boy) was a grandson of a buffalo medicine man. He grew up in the western Oklahoma environment filled with Kiowa ritual and traditional history. He was married to a Comanche, Ida, and had three children, Ola Mae, Ida L., and Kay, a son killed in 1953. One of the famous early twentieth century Indian painters from Oklahoma, he used themes and images to present the culture of Kiowa dancers and images of Kiowa life. According to Oscar Jacobson, his mentor, his role as a descendant of distinguished medicine people was as custodian to important ceremonial items, including a Kiowa calendar. Asah attended St. Patrick's Indian Mission School near Anadarko, Oklahoma, where he showed talent as an artist and a love of traditional Kiowa dancing. With four other artists, he later attended painting classes at the University of Oklahoma under the direction of Edith Mayer and Oscar Jacobson. In addition to images of single figures of brilliantly colored dancers, Asah participated in painting murals in 1929 in the Memorial Chapel for Father Isidore Ricklin at St. Patrick's Mission.

Asah's flat, two-dimensional work many times presents a profile view of a full figure. His line drawings and paintings were meticulous and exact replications of the feather work and regalia appropriate for the occasion. His dancers are animated and show movement and are accentuated with black and white areas that enhance the forms and colors of the dancers. Murals by Asah are found at the Oklahoma Supreme Court Building (formerly the Oklahoma Historical Society building) in Oklahoma City, at the Federal Building at Anadarko, Oklahoma, and at Fort Sill Indian School. Asah and the four other Kiowa artists were among the first Indians in Oklahoma to receive international accolades for their artistic productions. His work is represented in the Gilcrease Museum, the Philbrook Museum of Art, the Museum of the American Indian in New York, and other venues. Asah died in Norman, Oklahoma, in 1954.

SEE ALSO: AMERICAN INDIANS, ART–AMERICAN INDIAN, JAMES AUCHIAH, JACK HOKEAH, OSCAR JACOBSON, KIOWA, STEVEN MOPOPE, LOIS SMOKY, MONROE TSATOKE.

BIBLIOGRAPHY: Kiowa Murals: An Exhibition, June 16-July 18, 1991 [Exhibition Brochure] (Anadarko, Okla.: Southern Plains Indians Museum and Craft Center, 1991). Jeanne O. Snodgrass, American Indian Painters: A Biographical Directory (New York: The Museum of the American Indian, Heye Foundation, 1968). "Spencer Asah Lallo Little Boy," Oscar Jacobson Collection, Western History Collections, University of Oklahoma. Norman, Oklahoma.

Mary Jo Watson

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