Dissertations and Theses

Date of Award


Document Type



Art History

First Advisor

Lise Kjaer

Second Advisor

Craig Houser


Indigenous, Nation, primitive, modern, geometric, tondo


This paper analyzes how Leon Polk Smith's Indigenous roots and upbringing in Indian Country had a significant impact on his artistic practice in a time of discrimination and segregation in the United States. Through examination contextualizing his work within the history and political events of the Cherokee, Chickasaw, and Choctaw Nations it is revealed how Polk Smith developed a formal language that could navigate both worlds and be viewed through a pure abstraction lens or a lens embodying his Indigenous traditions. In addition to his Indigenous philosophies, Mesoamerican Inca Nation’s cultural motifs further ground Polk Smith’s Indigenous aesthetic, and avant-garde works by Piet Mondrian and Kashmir Malevich serve as a contemporary vantage point. This parallel places Polk Smith at a convergence of traditions.


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