Beau Tsatoke, an enrolled member of the Kiowa Tribe, is an emerging artist working in a variety of media. Although he specializes in historic style ledger art, Beau also works with leather, quill, stone, and textiles. He is a graduate of the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe, New Mexico, where he earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Studio Art with a focus in sculpture. Beau began his career as a professional artist two years ago, and currently resides in Santa Fe, New Mexico.
Born and raised in Saddle Mountain, Oklahoma, Beau was immersed in Kiowa art and culture from a young age. He is a direct descendant of Monroe Tsatoke, the noted Kiowa Five artist. Beau is an active member of the Kiowa Gourd Clan and the O-Ho-Mah Lodge War Dance Society, in which he continues to uphold his cultural duties. He is also a loyal member of the Kiowa Native American Church, Chapter 456.
The ledger art in this exhibition reveals the distinctive influence of Beau’s cultural knowledge and his deep appreciation for his people. Beau’s creative process involves channeling his thoughts into generating images on historic ledger paper that is over 100 years old. His use of bright colors and historical representations bring life to these concepts. By blending modern colors and traditional symbols, he forms a complex design that is unique to each of his pieces. This style of ledger art is not common the Southern Plains region and Beau is one of a small number of contemporary Kiowa ledger artists that are currently producing work of this style.
Beau is humbled by the support his art has received from the community. He has won second place in the adult mixed media division at both the 2018 and 2019 American Indian Exposition Art Competition, Anadarko, Oklahoma. His art is included in the collections of Institute of American Indian Arts, the Southern Plains Indian Museum, and numerous private collections. This exhibit marks Beau’s first solo exhibition and the first time his art has been exhibited in a professional museum setting. The artwork featured in the exhibition may be purchased by contacting Beau Tsatoke at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Some of the stories depicted in Beau’s artwork come from the Kiowa O-Ho-Mah Lodge War Dance Society, of which he is a member, along with inspiration from the Kiowa Five artists’ style of war dance. Beau’s designs incorporate historic elements, such as the Kiowa style headdresses, as well as artistic exaggerations to add color, flare, and dimension to the piece. Beau says, “I’ve always wanted to dance like this, but when I was younger and in my prime, I didn’t have materials to make regalia like this. Also, no one does it…but I’ve always wanted to dress like that.”
The horse in Yellowbird Medicine is wearing a headdress with antelope horns. The rider carries a shield decorated with the moon. Beau says, “I was always told that [the moon is] always watching us.” Beau’s drawings frequently feature the moon and stars. His great grandmother gave him his name, which means Shooting Star, so he incorporates stars into his designs as well as his signature.
While Beau has been drawing all his life, as a kid he only had pieces of notebook paper, not anything nicer to draw on. He used to think other artists must be using copies of ledger paper. Beau recounts visiting Monte Yellow Bird (Arikara) one school day in the studio, and asking “Where do you get paper like that?” Beau had no clue. Monte had a stack of ledger paper and told him, “Take whatever you want.” Beau asked, “Are you sure?” Then he grabbed as much as he could. Yellowbird Medicine is on one of the first pieces of paper Monte gave to him. Beau says, “He really didn’t have to give me that paper, but I’m glad he did. He jumpstarted me. So, I represent him in a lot of my work with that yellow bird.”
According to Beau, many collectors find antique ledger paper at garage sales, thrift stores, and places like that. However, “You can’t find that every day, so I jump on it...you've got to, or you’ll never see it again.”
The idea for Texas Frontier came while driving through the plains of Amarillo, Texas. It was flat, with only antelope herds way out on the prairie and old farms, appearing to be crumbling away in the distance. Having read about the way structures are intentionally burned for demolition, Beau thought about how they might burn down those old farmhouses. While he often uses a traditional style without imagery in the background in his artwork, Beau was inspired to add three burning houses to the background of this piece. Beau says the rider in Texas Frontier is based on the Comanche Band – the Antelope Eaters. He cites the work of Comanche artist Rance Hood as a reference for the antelope headdress, an old-style no longer seen today.
The Kiowa Five artists are the driving inspiration behind Beau’s artwork. When looking at old pictures of Monroe Tsatoke, with his fellow Kiowa artist Silver Horn, Beau noticed buffalo tails sticking out around their robes and thought that would make a great drawing. The buffalo doctor’s headdress includes decorative pieces seen in some Kiowa Five paintings, which Beau believes to be quills or feathers. Further influenced by the ceremonial dance and body paint depicted in Kiowa Five paintings, he creates a reimagining of the traditional, saying, “I don’t think they danced, those buffalo doctors, but I put bells on them. I’ve noticed a lot of Kiowa Five paintings where medicine men are painted up.”
In Horse Headdress Society, Beau's imagery is influenced by the old style of ledger art. The Kiowa Horse Headdresses Warrior Society is no longer a functioning warrior society, so little is known about it. Beau says, “You can ask an elder, and it’s so old that they don’t know. I was just kind of guessing at what these horses looked like long ago.” The tail of the horses being wrapped up is a Southern Plains style for war horses, which Beau uses to experiment with adding different design elements throughout his pieces.
The Sarci people (Tsuutʼina Nation) are a First Nation band government in Alberta, Canada. Beau tells how long-ago during pre-contact, “when the Kiowas were in Calgary, [Kiowas and Sarcis] married in together” and lived together. “I think they had a whole different Tribe. I always wonder, what language did they speak? They were half Kiowa and half Sarci.”
Leaving the Past Behind features a rider shooting backwards. While creating this piece, Beau thought of a dance that the Kiowa Black Leggings Warrior Society perform. Beau says, "They would ride, they would stop, they would shoot, all the enemies would duck, and then they would take off, stop, shoot, take off. As they did this, they would get further and further from the enemy”. To Beau, shooting backwards is a representation of leaving the past behind and moving forward with your life.
Numerous pieces are named after Beau’s connection to the Native American Church and its ceremonies and traditions. Artworks such as The Witness, Faithfulness, Be Strong, and The Provider are all inspired by his participation in the Native American Church. He describes his artwork as “a surrealist reimagination of traditional signs and symbols [that] come from the Creator by asking him to guide me and show me what colors and symbols to use that work together to create a complex language of my own design in each piece.” Beau also gives visual dimension to his designs with bright outlines (a technique to make the designs pop which he learned from Monte Yellow Bird) as his own way of giving medicine to the artwork and representing The Good Spirit.
Buffalo is the central theme of The Herd. The horse has on a buffalo headdress, while the rider also wears a buffalo headdress, a breechcloth with a buffalo design, and holds a buffalo hide shield with a buffalo painted on it. The rider also holds a lance and is shooting backwards with a pistol. Beau based the pattern of the horse on some he has seen in old ledger drawings.
Beau says the imagery and bright colors of his artwork are influenced by the Native American Church ceremony. His artistic spirit is influenced through song and prayer. While drawing, he often listens to Sampi songs, church hymns, and Kiowa hymns. “It seems like a lot of the time when I’m listening to our songs, I call upon those songs. I’ve been in a place where it wasn’t great and all I could do was pray about it. My drawings have taken me pretty far. I’m very thankful for what I can do, so every morning I wake up, thank God, and jump right on that drawing board.”