Morning Star Gallery showcases beadwork and quillwork.
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.