Arts & Entertainment

Review: Horace Poolaw exhibit captures 'love' of Indian people

Juanita Daugomah Ahtone (Kiowa), Evalou Ware Russell (center), Kiowa Tribal Princess, and Augustine Campbell Barsh (Kiowa) in the American Indian Exposition parade in Anadarko, Oklahoma, in 1941. Photo © Estate of Horace Poolaw via NMAI

The New York Times offers a favorable review of an exhibit featuring the works of Kiowa photographer Horace Poolaw at the National Museum of the American:
Mr. Poolaw was born in a close-knit Kiowa community in rural Oklahoma on the cusp of major changes in both Native and American life. Terrible things had happened. The Wounded Knee massacre was in the recent past when Mr. Poolaw was young. Chiricahua Apaches were still held as prisoners of war at Fort Sill in Oklahoma. The United States government had sliced up reservations in an effort to break down tribal cohesiveness and force Indians to assimilate into mainstream American society, which had stresses of its own with a changing economy, waves of immigration and European war not far in the future.

Assimilation was happening, though not necessarily as the government planned. It was taking place on Native American schedules and terms. Mr. Poolaw’s father was a United States Army scout at Fort Sill, but he also assumed the roles of medicine man and tribal historian for the Kiowa. The merging of worlds, at a grass-roots level, became the coincidental subject of Mr. Poolaw’s photographs.

It’s evident in his many portraits. In one from around 1944, Mr. Poolaw’s son Jerry, on furlough from the Navy, poses, a tepee behind him, in an enlisted man’s “crackerjack” uniform and an eagle-feather warrior headdress. From the 1930s comes a picture of two Kiowa women, Sindy and Hannah Keahbone, mother and daughter, wearing traditional buckskin gowns but very different hairstyles: The mother’s hair is long and braided, the daughter’s cut in a Clara Bow bob. And while, in a third photograph, a young man standing outdoors in ceremonial regalia might be from any era, a two-toned sedan parked in the distance puts him firmly in the 1950s.

Get the Story:
Going Mainstream on Their Own Terms (The New York Times 1/9)

Join the Conversation