PRINT March 1997


Leon Polk Smith

LEON POLK SMITH was born in what was then known as Indian Territory and a year later, in 1907, as Oklahoma. Both his parents were part Cherokee, and many of their neighbors were Chickasaws and Choctaws. Smith was to speak with warmth about the Native American stories, songs, and rituals he learned as a child. His heritage would put him at odds neither with contemporary America nor with Modernism; in fact the spirituality of the Native Americans, he felt, attuned him to the present and its possibilities.

Attending Oklahoma State College as a young man, Smith passed an open door that showed him an art class in progress, and realized for the first time—and with utter certainty—that he would become a painter. Another, later flash showed him that painting has a destiny as well as a history—or, anyway, that certain Modernists were trying to give it one. This moment came in 1936, in the galleries

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