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Geometry and Symbolism: The Splendor of American Indian Parfleches from the Meredith Collection

February 13 - April 25, 2004


The C.M. Russell Museum is pleased to present this exhibition in cooperation with the Meredith family and with assistance from Gaylord Torrence, Merrill Curator of American Indian Art at the Nelson Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City. The Meredith Collection of American Indian parfleches are in themselves a grand celebration of the nomadic way of life, as well as commemoration of an outstanding art form. (right: Western Plateau Envelope, ca 1880, rawhide and pigment)

American Indian parfleches are a powerful tradition of abstract painting created by women of various tribal groups throughout the western half of North America during the 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries. Parfleches -- containers of folded or sewn rawhide elaborated with painted designs -- were integral to the nomadic ways of life of the Plains, Intermountain, and Plateau tribes because they provided for the transportation of each family's food and material possessions. At the same time, they served an intellectual, emotional, and spiritual purpose. The painted images were rich in associative and symbolic meanings, and provided the women who painted them with a medium for personal artistic expression and a way to affirm their cultural identity.

The art of preparing rawhide from the skins of these animals and constructing painted rawhide containers, known as parfleches, was practiced widely by the nomadic tribes of the Great Plains of North America from 1750-1880. Parfleche containers were light, strong, durable and highly portable. The containers were made in a wide range of styles and sizes for specific domestic, military and ceremonial uses.

The Plains Indians were a highly mobile people who followed the path of the buffalo. All of their possessions from their tipis and bedding to their cookery had to be packed up and moved by horse from camp to camp. To carry their belongings Indian women created bags and cases of various sizes and shapes out of buckskin and rawhide. These items were highly utilitarian in design, but they were also decorated with care and purpose by their owners. Bags were beaded and fringed, and feathers, claws and hooves were often incorporated into the decorations. Some storage bags were fashioned from hides that had been wood-smoked to keep the leather supple and give it a golden hue. Others were shaped from wet rawhide and then dried into rigid, box-like storage containers called parfleches. (right: Sioux Envelope, ca 1880, rawhide and pigment)

The member's preview will be held February, 12 from 5-7:00 p.m. and is open to Museum non-members for a fee. At 5:30 p.m. Inez Wolins, Executive Director, will give a Director's Tour and at 6:00 p.m. The Longfellow Indian Culture Club will perform Native American Dancing.


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