AMARA LIEGEROT ELDER
Acee Blue Eagle, though not widely known today, represented a true enlightenment in the emerging world of
American Indian art. He was among the first Indian artists to truly embrace his heritage and embark upon a solo
career, traveling worldwide promoting himself and his art. He began drawing and painting in 1919 at age 12, at a
time when Indian art was just beginning to blossom in Oklahoma. With the encouragement and support of his
grandfather and those who later came into his life, he found his calling early on. When the Kiowa Five artists of
Oklahoma began painting together and were introduced to the world at around this same time as a group, Blue
Eagle set out on the path alone.
ACEE BLUE EAGLE
Acee Blue Eagle (Lumhee Holot-Tee) was born Alexander McIntosh in 1907 in the small village of Hitchita in the
heart of the Creek Nation, in Oklahoma Territory, to a Muscogee Creek father and Pawnee/Wichita mother.
Orphaned early in life, he was whisked away to Oklahoma Indian boarding schools. At Chilocco Indian School, he
began to take a serious interest in developing his love of art into a career. After graduation from Chilocco, he
attended Bacone College in Muskogee, Oklahoma for two years, then transferred to the University of Oklahoma,
graduating with a fine arts degree in 1932.
OSCAR JACOBSON AND THE "FLAT STYLE"
At the University of Oklahoma, Blue Eagle was befriended by Professor Oscar Jacobson, director of the
university's School of Art. Jacobson would become a major force in his life, as his adviser, his longtime associate
and, in Blue Eagle's own words, his "guru." Jacobson once told him, "Of course I can't teach you the art. The
knowledge of the Indian spiritualism and religious symbols is yours, the heritage from your forefathers. But I
will help you to concentrate all your efforts in becoming a great artist." Jacobson was known for his work with
the Kiowa Five artists -- Monroe Tsatoke, Spencer Asah, Stephen Mopope, Jack Hokeah, Lois Smoky and James
Auchiah (see Summer 1995 issue) -- which resulted in a special portfolio of Kiowa Five paintings printed in France
to worldwide acclaim in 1929.
It would be through Blue Eagle and the Kiowa Five that the traditional Oklahoma "flat style" of art would become
so well known. The two-dimensional paintings featured flat areas of color with heavy outline, usually with no
background. The subject matter was usually that of buffalo hunting, domestic scenes and ceremonial dances.
Almost simultaneously with this Oklahoma art movement came the development of the Santa Fe Art School under
the guidance of Dorothy Dunn, later referred to as The Studio, which began to emerge in 1932. Many talented
artists from the surrounding pueblos and other tribes began to excel here in their art, including Oscar Howe,
Jose Rey Toledo, Harrison Begay, Gerald Nailor, Allan Houser and Pablita Velarde. According to Dunn, "It had not
occurred to most students to think of their Native art as art. Indian art was something accepted without
thinking about it, as a part of everyday life."
The Oklahoma and Southwest artists traveled back and forth so frequently they often became adopted family
members, painting with one another and exchanging ideas. The early contact between these two major art
movements was significant in promoting a shared artistic tradition. There were many similarities between both
schools, primarily the flat style and the use of water-based paint. Art historian Arthur Silberman once described
this relationship as follows: "Mutual support, competition, and exchange characterized the relationship between
artists and teachers at the Studio, the University of Oklahoma, and Bacone College."
Blue Eagle truly felt a need to communicate and educate, through his art, the importance of his ancestral
traditions to the non-Indian community. His art reflected distinct aspects of Creek and Pawnee culture,
ceremonies, customs and dress. It was usually painted with watercolor or tempera on colored paper, and was often
characterized by large areas of flat color with single, simple figures. His favorite subjects were dancers,
musicians, hunting scenes or medicine men in traditional regalia. The background images were generally clumps of
grass or vegetation, which would also include an abstract sun, water birds, clouds, geometric designs or symbols.
His favorite subject matter, particularly for murals, was scenes of the great buffalo hunt.
One of the highlights in Blue Eagle's life was the trip he would take to Europe, upon the advice of Oscar
Jacobson, where he lectured at Oxford University in England. He was invited to Buckingham Palace to play the
flute, sing, dance and talk about his art and culture. While there he met a little girl named Elizabeth, who would
later become Queen of England. Afterward, he traveled throughout Europe, including Scotland, Italy, France and
Switzerland, lecturing on American Indian art.
He Created Many Murals
Blue Eagle also participated in the mural projects under the Works Progress Administration developed by
President Franklin D. Roosevelt in the mid-1930s. In fact, he considered himself primarily a muralist, and was
heavily influenced by Thomas Hart Benton and Diego Rivera. Both Benton and Rivera were consumed with the idea
of painting and preserving the "images of their people," reflecting the public and social significance of their time.
Blue Eagle understood the importance of documenting one's people for the sake of posterity. He once stated his
primary goal was to "preserve the culture and traditions of the early Indians in lasting public works." He was
involved with many mural projects scattered across the state of Oklahoma, including the Women's College in
Chickasha, Central State College in Edmond, the Carnegie Library and Veteran's Hospital in Muskogee, and the
Seminole and Coalgate post offices. Unfortunately, many of these murals were painted over or otherwise
In the fall of 1935, Blue Eagle became director of the first art department at Bacone College, where he would be
instrumental in the emergence of the art style known as the Baconian School. The institution eventually gained
national recognition as producing highly talented and successful artists.
At the height of his career, Blue Eagle signed up to serve in the Army Air Corps during World War II. After
surviving a B-17 plane crash, he was reassigned from aerial reconnaissance to "special assignments," which
included working as a camouflage artist and illustrator for safety programs. In 1945, after his discharge from
the Army Air Corps, he returned to Oklahoma and was hired as artist-in-residence at Oklahoma State University
Technological School in Okmulgee.
Although he traveled all over the country and around the world, Blue Eagle never forgot where he came from, nor
the many friends and people who supported and helped him along the way. His engaging and colorful yet kindhearted
personality won him many lifelong friends over the years. He was well known not only as an artist, but as a
dancer, performer, musician, writer, teacher and poet. He possessed a special gift of engaging and captivating his
audiences through his art, music and storytelling. He enjoyed being in the limelight, although when it was all said
and done, he was truly a humble, joyful soul who was happy and content to return to his Native roots and his home
in Oklahoma. Copyright 2012
Reno, D. Contemporary Native American Artists. 1995.
Schaaf, G. American Indian Jewelry I: 1200 Artist Biographies. 2003.