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Born: May 20, 1906, outside of Chickasha, Indian Territory, became the US state of Oklahoma,1907 Chickasha was founded in 1892 with the arrival of the Chicago, Rock Island and Pacific Railway, in June of that year the town’s post office opened. Town incorporation had occurred in 1902. Parents were each one-half Cherokee Native American and Smith spoke Cherokee language in his home and immediate community.


May: Graduates from Pocasset High School in Chickasha, Oklahoma.


In 1924 the US Congress granted US citizenship to all Native Americans born in the US, though voting rights were still determined on a state-by-state basis. Works as a rancher in Oklahoma and then migrates to Arizona, where he helps construct highways and telephone systems.


Receives B.A. in English from Oklahoma State College, now East Central University, Ada.


Teaches primary and secondary school in Oklahoma


Receives Oklahoma State Teacher’s Certificate. Summer: Attends first of three consecutive summer sessions at Teacher’s College, Columbia University, New York; lives at International House, 500 Riverside Drive; with Ryah Ludins, one of his instructors visits Albert E. Gallatin’s Gallery of Living Art at New York University, where he sees his first works by Mondrian, Brancusi, and Arp.


Creates paintings and drawings in various Modernist styles, including Surrealism, Expressionism, and abstraction.


Summer: Meets Martha Graham after a performance at Bennington College in Vermont.


Dec. 21: Receives MA in Art and Educational Psychology from Teachers College, Columbia.


Summer – early autumn: Travels through Europe. August: Teaches children from the American School in Paris and in Étretat, France; creates his first collage, French Peasant.


Summer: Travels through Mexico. Autumn: Appointed assistant professor of art at Georgia Teachers College in Collegeboro.


January 13-February 6: First one-person exhibition held at Uptown Gallery, New York. March 28-May 1: First group exhibition held at Brooklyn Museum, New York.


Accepts position as Delaware’s State Supervisor of Art Education; moves to 12 South Bedford St, Georgetown, Delaware. February 2-15: First one-person museum exhibition organized by Telfair Academy of Arts and Sciences, Savannah, Georgia. Second one-person exhibition, Pinacotheca Gallery, New York.


Produces his first abstract compositions.


February: Having resigned his position in Delaware, begins working at the Museum of Non-Objective Painting in New York as an assistant to Hilla Rebay, director; subsequently moves to 332 West 12th At. April: Receives $15 check from the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation for painting supplies. May: Awarded a Guggenheim fellowship. Late June/early July: Travels to Oklahoma and then New Mexico, where he spends he next several months painting and increasing his awareness of nonobjective art.


Winter/spring: Returns to New York; moves to 108 West 16th St.


He carries out parallel research in various abstract compositions including his Columns, Articulations, Diagonal Passages, and Inch Square series.


Appointed professor of art at Rollins College in Winter Park, Florida. Included in Post Mondrian Painters at Sidney Janis Gallery, New York.


Resigns professorship at Rollins College. Summer: Moves to Varadero, Cuba, where he spends the next several months.


Returns in New York; moves to 51 West 10th St. (the Tenth Street Studio Building). Creates a series of “light sculptures” by reflecting sunlight from a metal plate. Meets Robert Jamieson, who becomes his studio assistant, archivist, and long time companion. Summer: Teaches two courses at New York University. Autumn: Appointed professor of art at Mills College of Education in New York, where he also directs the school’s art gallery through 1957.


Emerges from Neo-Plasticism with a series of tondos inspired by drawing of baseballs he saw in a sporting-goods catalogue.


Moves to 82 West 12th St.


Is part of Pure Abstract exhibition, Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven, Connecticut.

circa 1955

Creates his first sculpture.


Introduces Martha Graham to the Egyptian composer Halim El-Dabh, whom she subsequently asks to compose the music for her dance Clytemnestra. Resigns his professorship at Mills College at the conclusion of the spring semester. Honored with a Longview Foundation Purchase. September: Joins Betty Parsons Gallery.

circa 1960-67

Produces the Correspondences.


Leaves Betty Parsons Gallery and joins Stable Gallery. Creates his first standing screen panel paintings. Begins a series of folding tabletop paintings.


September: First one-person museum exhibition outside the United States opens at the Museo de Bellas Artes in Caracas. Work in Geometric Abstraction in America, Whitney Museum of American Art.


Moves to 47 East 19th St.


Produces a series of drawings made by tearing colored paper. Included in the landmark group exhibition The Responsive Eye, The Museum of Modern Art, New York.


Affiliated with Galerie Chalette in New York.


Receives National Council of Art Award. Moves to Shoreham, Long Island.


Produces the Constellations.


Spring: Serves as artist-in-residence at Poses Institute of Fine Arts, Rose Art Museum, Brandeis University, Waltham, Massachusetts, which gives him a solo exhibition that travels to the San Francisco Museum of Art. October-November: Produces sixteen prints in Los Angeles under the auspices of a Tamarind Fellowship.


Supports contemporary Native American artists advocate Lloyd Oxendine (Lumbee, 1942-2015) in Oxendine’s founding and operation of the first gallery of contemporary Native American art, the American Art Gallery in New York City.


Spring: Serves as distinguished visiting professor at the University of California, Davis.


Affiliated with Galerie Denise René in New York.


Lecturer at the College of Fine Arts, University of Texas, Austin


Moves to 31 Union Square West in New York.


Curated an exhibition of Northwest Native American artists for the visual artist and filmmaker G. Peter Jemison (Seneca, b.1945) while Jemison ran the American Indian Community House in New York City.


He executes the Form Space series, two-part paintings that can be installed in various ways.


Works on large scale, often monochromatic paintings.


Honored with a Hassum and Speicher Fund Purchase by the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters in New York. The purchased work, Red-Black, 1958, is later given to the Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art. Lecturer at the Graduate School of Art, Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut.


May 31-July 29: First one-person museum exhibition in Europe presented at Berlin’s Nationalgalerie.


Receives East Central University’s Distinguished Alumnus Award.


May 7-June 19: First museum retrospective held at The Butler Institute of American Art in Youngstown, Ohio. December: Constellation – Twelve Circles, one of his most monumental works is installed in CIBA-GEIBY’s Pharmaceutical Developments Building in Summit, New Jersey.


Leon Polk Smith: American Painter, retrospective survey, The Brooklyn Museum, New York


Dies at home in New York on December 4.