Acee Blue Eagle Glasses
This article first
appeared in CGN Issue #13 in April 1991. It was later reprinted in The
This provisional attempt to provide some information about an extremely talented and fascinating American Indian artist might have had any number of subtitles: The Man and the Legend; Showman, Scholar, and Artist; Poet and Painter. He was all of these things, as I have discovered, and not just the artist whose works appear on a set of glasses we have come to know as the "Famous Oklahoma Indians" glasses.
I remember that when I started to collect glasses (historically speakingnot that long ago!), I left frosted iced tea glasses on the flea market tables, rarely picking them up to examine them closely. Countless antique autos, Ohio Riverboats, and state flowers and birds therefore had an opportunity to go home with other people, and I remember how good I felt that my taste in glasses remained free of taint. Then one day at a small, sleazy collectible mall in Ohio that I drove half a day to get to, I saw sitting on a shelf in a dimly lit booth, a frosted pitcher and three glasses, all with brightly colored Indian figures on them. I didn't know what they were, nor did the booth attendant, but he was eager to show me. One close look made it obvious that these glasses and pitcher were not in the same league with antique autos and the like. Their owner was happy to part with them for $5, and I had my first frosted iced tea glasses and pitcher.
It wasn't until I got home and was washing the glasses that I discovered the name "Blue Eagle" below and to the right of each design. I figured that this was the name of an Indian artist, but beyond that I knew nothing. I remained in this state of ignorance for quite some time and did not come across the other five glasses I guessed were in the set, although I did come across a few of this set's "sister" set: the "Famous Ohio Indians." (Regarding this Ohio set, I should mention here as a footnote that while the "Famous Ohio Indians" glasses resemble very closely the Oklahoma Indians glasses, there is no solid evidence to suggest that the art on these glasses was done by Blue Eagle. The Ohio Indian glasses have "c. Bonded" at the lower right of each design, and the pitcher has "c. Bonded Oil Co." on it. Furthermore, the pitcher that supposedly "goes with" the Ohio Indians set does not even have the words "Famous Ohio Indians" on it. I believe that this Ohio Indian set is a generic "aftermarket" set issued on the heels of the Oklahoma Indian set. I don't know who the artist is. I would be surprised if it were Blue Eagle. After all, his work was important enough to warrant the inclusion of his name. One more thing: there is a "ninth" glass in the Ohio setan unofficial glass, if you like. Its heading is "Famous Ohio Indian" instead of "Famous Ohio Indians." This ninth glass is entitled "Pontiac/The Red Napoleon." It looks just like all the others except its heading ["Famous Ohio Indian"] is in brown, and "c. Bonded" is not on the glass. Finally, there is a 4 3/4" frosted Bonded Oil Co. juice glass featuring "Little Princess Red Wing." There are no references to tribal affiliations. This glass probably belongs to a set of generic Bonded Oil Co. promotional Indian glasses. But these glasses are the subject for another article!) When we composed our book, we included a photograph of the "Famous Oklahoma Indians" pitcher and three glasses. A day or two before we sent the galley proofs of the book off, I found the name of a fourth Oklahoma Indian on someone's for sale list (Hen-Toh), so I added it to the three we already knew. And that was that until the book was published in December 1988.
It wasn't long before a reader of our book in Oklahoma sent me an article on Acee Blue Eagle that appeared in a publication called Twin Territories . This article, by Lola Shropshire and entitled "Acee Blue Eagle: The Legend and the Man," is undated, but it did a very nice job of filling the Acee Blue Eagle knowledge gap for me. I am indebted to Shropshire's article for much of the content of this article which I hope will help us understand and appreciate this relatively unknown but truly unusual native American artist.
Alexander C. McIntosh and a twin brother (who died four days later) were born of a Creek -Scotch family on August 7, 1909 in Hitchita, Oklahoma. Acee was the great-grandson of Roley McIntosh, Chief of the Creeks for 31 years. Roley was half brother to the famous Chief William McIntosh (c. 1775-1825) who led the lower Creek Indians against the British in the War of 1812 and who fought alongside Andrew Jackson against the Seminole Indians. He was slain in 1825 by the upper Creek Indians who opposed his ceding Creek lands east of the Chatahoochee River to Georgia.
Acee (a name derived from his initials, A. C.) attended Nuyaka Indian School near Bristow from 1916-1922, then later attended Haskell Institute in Lawrence, Kansas (where he played football and gave frequent Indian dance performances), and Chilocco Indian School (where he was trombonist and band major) from 1925 to 1928.
Acee continued his education at the University of Oklahoma in 1931 to study Fine Art with Professors Edith Mahier and Oscar Jacobson. His affiliation with O. U. and Professor Jacobson brought him international fame and recognition. A prolific artist, Acee accepted a government job painting murals in the early 1930s. He painted murals for the Coalgate Post Office, Central State College at Edmund, Oklahoma College for Women at Chickasha, the Carnegie Library in Muskogee, and the Seminole Post Office. Because he did so much research on his subjectstravelling to New York, Chicago, and the Smithsonian studying the ancient traditions, rituals, and ceremonieshe had an impeccable reputation for authenticity, and he was never questioned as he went about his work.
At the 1932 Olympics Acee was awarded fourth place in watercolor and drawing, and in 1933 he came in second place as our country's most outstanding Indian.
In 1934 Acee exhibited eight paintings at the World's Fair in Chicago. One of his favorite works, commissioned by the Lions' Clubs of Oklahoma for the Battleship U.S.S. Oklahoma, was "The Buffalo Hunt." This painting, given to the captain of that ship in 1934 for the ship's library, is now at the bottom of Pearl Harbor.
In the summer of 1935 Acee lectured on Indian art, dance, and song at Oxford University as well as other European universities. He even gave a command performance in full Indian regalia at Buckingham Palace, greatly impressing the Queen and her two daughters, Margaret and Elizabeth (Queen Elizabeth II). His European appearances generated newsprint all over the world, and it is said that he created a "stir" wherever he went. When he returned from his continental tour, he became Art Director at Bacone College and played a key role in fostering what later became known as the Baconian Era in Indian Art. He resigned this post in 1938 to pursue his art full time.
In 1936 he was invited to exhibit his work at the National Exhibition of Art at Rockefeller Center in New York.
In 1939 Acee traveled to Mexico to study the direction of contemporary art, then to New York to study with the famous Indian portrait artist Wenold Waiss. His goal was to begin painting the famous Indian elders and full-bloods who were rapidly disappearing. He also did many oral histories of old and famous Indians to record as much information as he could about their origins, history, and traditions before this knowledge disappeared forever.
In 1943 (at the height of his career), Acee joined the Army Air Corps. He was stationed at eighteen different posts, and he left beautiful murals behind at each one.
In 1958, one year before his death, he was voted America's outstanding Indiana long overdue honor.
After a full and rich artistic career, Acee died on June 16, 1959 at the age of 49, still at work as Artist in Residence at Oklahoma State University Technical Institute at Okmulgee. A sad irony is that he died almost penniless at the V. A. hospital of a liver infection. He is buried in the Fort Gibson Military Cemetery under a plain white marker.
What I have presented here about Acee Blue Eagle is only the beginning. He may have had a short life, but it was a full one. Here are some other interesting facts about him: He had a radio show and a television show. The Ethiopian leader Selassie owned eleven of his paintings. His paintings have been displayed in London, Paris, Edinburgh, Stockholm, New York, and San Francisco. Acee represented Oklahoma in National Geographic Magazine . He was married to the famous Balinese dancer Devi Ja in 1946. He was an expert on medicine man folklore and the Indian flute. He is a member of the Oklahoma Hall of Fame. He was a writerthe author of two books: a book on Oklahoma Indian art published a year after his death, and Echogee, a book he wrote in 1932, finally published in 1971.
Where did Acee come by the name "Blue Eagle?" This was one of Acee's favorite stories. According to him, an albino eagle flew over his mother's family home, but had the misfortune to fall into a pot of blueberries. From that time on, her family name was known as Blue Eagle. Since the Creek tribe is matrilineal, Acee received the Blue Eagle name.
Which brings us back to the glasses mentioned earlier in this article. The "Famous Oklahoma Indian" set of eight glasses and pitcher came out in 1959, the year of his death. According to Carol and Gene Markowski in Tomart's Guide to Character and Promotional Glasses , Knox Industries commissioned him to "produce eight paintings to be reproduced on 15 oz. tumblers." Besides the well-known 6 1/2" frosted glasses, there is a lesser known clear set of 5 1/4" glasses. These glasses are wide at the top and narrow at the bottom. This set comes with a clear pitcher. The designs are the same on both sets of glasses, as are most of the colors, but the designs are smaller on the clear set.
In addition, there are two small frosted juice glasses that don't seem to be members of any set. Perhaps they are a set of two. These glasses are 4 3/4" tall and feature under the heading of "Famous American Indians" Cochise (Apache) and Pocahontas (Powhatan). These juice glasses and the clear set of Oklahoma Indians are not well known in glass collecting circles.
Collectors agree that these glasses were available for modest prices with gasoline purchases at a variety of gasoline stations in Oklahoma. A two sided flyer from the Knox Oil company shows that the Oklahoma Indians glasses were available with a 10 gallon purchase.
Today there is a small but extremely dedicated cadre of glass collectors who value these glasses highly for their historical significance and for their inherent beauty. As I said before, these glasses possess a certain charm. The subject matter is truly worthy and significant. There is nothing trivial about themsomething that can't be said about so many commemorative and promotional glasses that are issued today. One might say that Acee Blue Eagle's soul is in them and that his representations are beautiful because he had a great soul.
As for the value of these glasses, who can say? I think that these glasses are undervalued today. We priced the frosted glasses at $4-$6 each in our book (1988), and the Markowski's (1990) price them at $5 to $10. We valued the pitcher at $10-$15; the Markowski's priced it at $20-$25. Our prices are too low, and the Markowski's soon will be. Collectors who know assure me that the clear pitcher commonly sells for $75 to $125, when it can be found . The rarer and lesser known clear glasses deserve to command proportionately higher prices, and the two small juice glasses are so unusual that I don't dare presume to attach a value. And there is still the wooden carrier/tray that came with each set. These are very tough to find and very desirable. Collectors will tell you that $50 is not unreasonable for this item. Still, with cartoon character glasses and Pepsi glasses front and foremost in today's collecting spotlight, you can frequently find these glasses for next to nothing at flea markets and trade for them without giving very much up. To this I say: good luck, do it, that's what makes collecting collectingand fun!
Knowing about Acee Blue Eagle makes me prize his "Famous Oklahoma Indians" all the more. If you have some of these glasses, you have, in my opinion, meaningful American cultural artefacts. You have art executed by a native American artist who dedicated his whole life to the preservation of native American art and tradition. You have something of enduring significance.
Information about Acee Blue Eagle is not especially easy to find, but it is more readily available in Oklahoma than in other places, and especially in east central Oklahoma, as we might expect. If you search through books on American Indian Art, your chances of finding some references to him are good. Blue Eagle art, memoribilia, and biographical information can be found at the University of Oklahoma Library, the Gilcrease Museum, Bacone College, the Muskogee Public Library, Okmulgee Tech. and many other places, including the Smithsonian. The Acee Blue Eagle legend still lives. Ask practically anyone in Oklahoma about Blue Eagle, and you'll get an answer!
I'd like to end these reflections on Acee Blue Eagle and his work by sharing with you his poem:
"Why Injun Artist Me."
It goes like this:
That's what I like about Blue Eagle, his art, and his Oklahoma Indians: he make me see, and I feel comfortable knowing that I am connected to something that will last.
This site was last updated 02/20/10