Plains Aes­thetic

Morn­ing Star Gallery show­cases bead­work and quill­work.

Native American Art - - IN THIS ISSUE -

SANTA FE, NM

The Au­gust ex­hi­bi­tion at Morn­ing Star Gallery in Santa Fe is Re­fined De­sign, Aes­thet­ics and De­tails in Plains Art, show­cas­ing fine ex­am­ples of Plains bead­work and quill­work.

“This show will high­light the more nu­anced as­pects of de­sign el­e­ments and sub­tle de­tails for which Plains artists are so renowned,” the gallery ex­plains. “More than the ob­ject type, we look closely at spe­cific de­sign el­e­ments, in­clud­ing: com­po­si­tion, The ‘drip fac­tor’ such as fringe, crafts­man­ship, ma­te­ri­als and over­all aes­thet­ics.”

At the time of the 2014-2015 ex­hi­bi­tion The Plains In­di­ans: Artists of Earth and Sky, of which he was cu­ra­tor, Gay­lord Tor­rence wrote about “the beauty and spir­i­tual res­o­nance of Plains In­dian art. The ob­jects em­body both the cre­ative bril­liance of their in­di­vid­ual mak­ers and the mean­ings and power of pro­found cul­tural tra­di­tions….” Tor­rence is se­nior cu­ra­tor of Na­tive Amer­i­can art at the Nel­son-atkins Mu­seum of Art in Kansas City, Mis­souri.

Among the ex­tra­or­di­nary ob­jects in Morn­ing Star’s show and sale is a se­lec­tion of Kiowa Strike-a-light bags, all from around 1875. Kiowa women car­ried fire mak­ing ma­te­ri­als (a piece of flint, a piece of steel, and flammable fiber) in these bags, which they at­tached to their belts.

Their ba­sic con­struc­tion is of tanned leather but the bead­work and “drip fac­tor” em­bel­lish their func­tion­al­ity both visu­ally and au­rally. Tin cones are at­tached to the deer hide fringe at the bot­tom of some of the bags and tin is wrapped around some of the long drops. The bags, fringe and drops would sway as the women moved and the tin would make a sound.

The tin was sal­vaged from food and am­mu­ni­tion cans and tanned leather was ac­quired by trade. Large ce­ramic “pony beads” were brought by Euro­peans in the 15th cen­tury for gifts or trade. In the 1830s small, glass, “seed beads” were in­tro­duced. Bead­work soon re­placed

ar­du­ous quill­work as the ma­jor form of dec­o­ra­tion.

The col­ors, color re­la­tion­ships and pat­terns in the de­signs car­ried mean­ing for each tribe and in­di­vid­u­als of­ten adapted de­sign and color mo­tifs of their own. A tri­an­gu­lar shape might rep­re­sent the land­scape and moun­tains to a Kiowa woman, for in­stance, but a spear point to a man.

Beaded ob­jects and cloth­ing con­tinue to be im­por­tant among Plains tribes. Teri Greeves, a con­tem­po­rary Kiowa bead­worker, com­ments, “To­day, a Kiowa is not prop­erly dressed if they do not have at least one piece of bead­work on.”

Al­though bead­work can be found across the world, quill­work is unique to North Amer­ica. In the ex­hi­bi­tion is an Up­per Mis­souri quilled knife case and belt pouch from around 1860. Por­cu­pine quills are gath­ered and sorted as to size and were orig­i­nally dyed with nat­u­ral dyes. To­day, ani­line dyes pro­vide more and richer col­ors. The quills are soft­ened with wa­ter and are held in the ar­ti­san’s mouth to make them even more pli­able. They are flat­tened by draw­ing them through the teeth. Once they have been worked into de­signs us­ing var­i­ous tech­niques, the quills dry hard.

1. Up­per Mis­souri quilled knife case and belt pouch (de­tail), ca. 1860.2. Kiowa Strike-a-light Bag, ca. 1875.3. Kiowa Strike-a-light Bag, ca. 1875.

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