"The Painted Arrow People": Art of the Cheyenne

September 9 - December 23, 2008

 

Additional images and wall text from the exhibition

 

(above: Howling Wolf (Southern Cheyenne Indian, 1849 - 1927), Howling Wolf fighting soldiers, 1874-1875, Pen, ink, and watercolor on ledger paper, Oberlin Ledger - pg. 76. Gift of Mrs. Jacob D. Cox, 1904.1180.22)

 

Warrior societies were fraternal orders that played a central role in the life of the tribe. They acted as both protecting army and internal police, enforcing the orders of the Chief. Additionally, the societies undertook numerous important ceremonial functions, including building the medicine lodge.
 
Between the ages of 13 to 16, boys were eligible to join any of the warrior societies active in their tribe. While it was typical for a son to become a member of the same society as his father, this was not always the case. Howling Wolf followed in his father's footsteps and joined the Bowstring Society where his father, Eagle Head, was a prominent member. Howling Wolf also rose to a place of high standing within the society due to his bravery and skill in battle.
 
The Bowstrings were a group unique to the Southern Cheyenne, though they did have a counterpart among the Northern Cheyenne, known as the Crazy Dogs. While not one of the ancient warrior societies of the Cheyenne, the Bowstrings were still thought to be almost one hundred years old at the time. By the early 1870s, the Bowstring Society was a strong proponent within the Southern Cheyenne of war against the encroaching white settlers. This stance brought an increased amount of unwelcome attention from the federal authorities.

(above: Howling Wolf (Southern Cheyenne Indian, 1849 - 1927), Under Cloud, Howling Wolf Fight with General Sully in 1868, 7th Cavalry near the present Camp Supply, 1874-1875, Pen, ink, and watercolor on ledger paper, Oberlin Ledger - pg. 62. Gift of Mrs. Jacob D. Cox, 1904.1180.15)

 

This drawing illustrates the fierce confrontations between the Cheyenne and the encroaching white population, especially the United States military, which were common during the later half of the 19th century. The 1840s and 1850s were the final years of largely peaceful relations between most Plains Indian tribes and the Anglo populations, especially in regards to trade. After that time, numerous unhonored, biased treaties on the part of the United States and the introduction of diseases and alcoholism accentuated hostilities. By 1871, most of the Native American tribes in the U.S. had signed treaties forfeiting their ancestral lands, in exchange for reservations and government welfare. These treaties marked a turning point for many Plains Indian, and even the most ardent proponents of peace, such as Howling Wolf's father, Eagle Head, were advocating complete war.



(above: Central Plains Indian, late 19th - early 20th century, Pouch, Leather, beads, and tin (?) cones. Gift of the Oberlin College Department of Zoology, 1957.123)

 

Pouches such as those displayed here would have been worn on a woman's belt and used as containers for personal possessions, such as striking flints and fact paints. The fine beadwork visible, and the time necessary for its creation, speaks to the importance of art in daily life.
 
The feminine art of 'quilling,' or creating intricate geometric designs on animal hides with dyed porcupine quills, was considered a sacred act by the Cheyenne, as with many other Plains Indians. A young woman who wished good fortune for her family would ask to learn the art from a member of the quilling guild. She would then hold a feast, during which she would officially commit herself to the craft and announce her first project. During the feast, guild members would speak of their artistic accomplishments, similar to the way warriors would recount acts of bravery in battle. Once a woman learned the art and its rituals, she was expected to teach others and to continue practicing, ensuring her prosperity and social status.
 
When glass beads were introduced by white traders, they were quickly adopted by the Southern Cheyenne. This was due, in part, to the beads' versatility, as well as a shortage of available quills. The use of small beads was adapted to established patterns and techniques, continuing the honored traditions. The feminine art of 'quilling,' or creating intricate geometric designs on animal hides with dyed porcupine quills, was considered a sacred act by the Cheyenne, as with many other Plains Indians. A young woman who wished good fortune for her family would ask to learn the art from a member of the quilling guild. She would then hold a feast, during which she would officially commit herself to the craft and announce her first project. During the feast, guild members would speak of their artistic accomplishments, similar to the way warriors would recount acts of bravery in battle. Once a woman learned the art and its rituals, she was expected to teach others and to continue practicing, ensuring her prosperity and social status.
 
Due to the close contact and shared histories among neighboring communities, techniques and styles were shared among all female Plains artists, though certain design elements, stitches, and color combinations were distinct to specific tribes. In addition to technical skill, personal style was highly valued and a great deal of individual expression and innovation is evident within the conventional format.
Several motifs were favored among the Cheyenne. For instance, triangular designs tend to have narrower proportions in their works compared with other tribes. Also common in Cheyenne beadwork is a white background, with thin colored striping, often of dark blue, yellow, and red, which created a high level of contrast.
These rows were created by using a method popular within Cheyenne beadworking, the parallel stitch, a technique derived from traditional quillwork.

 

(image not available)

(above: Central Plains Indian, late 19th - early 20th century , Navel Amulet in the Form of a Turtle, Leather, beads, tin cones. Gift of the Oberlin College Department of Zoology, 1957.135)

 

Part of a newborn's umbilical cord was sewn into an amulet, such as the one displayed here. The amulet acted as a prayer for long life, a child's first toy, and a protective charm effective even into adulthood. Lizards and turtles were common shapes for an amulet owing to their associations with longevity and, in the case of turtles, fertility.
 
At the end of the Plains Indian Wars in 1875, Howling Wolf and his father Eagle Head were two of the seventy-five Kiowa, Arapaho, Caddo, Comanche and Cheyenne chiefs and warriors sent to prison at Fort Marion in Florida. The U.S. troops had captured these men, whom they perceived as instigators of violence, in an attempt to suppress resistance among communities being sent to reservations. As part of their integration into white society, the prison warden, Lt. Richard H. Pratt, encouraged Howling Wolf, along with the other inmates, to continue their drawing. He even provided them with materials such as ledger books, pens, and watercolors. Pratt then sold the drawings and gave them to friends as an effort to de-mystify and assimilate the men in his charge. The appearance of a white tourist audience influenced the subject matter of many ledger artists, with traditional imagery being replaced by more complacent settings and increasingly naturalistic rendering of landscapes and interior spaces.
 



(above: Howling Wolf (Southern Cheyenne Indian, 1849 - 1927), Howling Wolf and Feathered Bear are Courting two girls at the spring where they were getting water, 1874-1875, Pen, ink, and watercolor on ledger paper, Oberlin Ledger - pg. 2, Gift of Mrs. Jacob D. Cox, 1904.1180.1)

 

Howling Wolf rarely depicted domestic scenes or images of Cheyenne ceremonies before he was sent to prison. Accordingly, there are just a few examples of such illustrations in the Oberlin ledger. The courting scene displayed here is a vivid drawing of Howling Wolf and his companion Feathered Bear speaking with two women. A few drawings of ceremonial dances deviate from the usual composition and subject matter. The first, of a warrior society dance, experiments with the perspective from which the scene is viewed, so that the entire crowd is visible.

 

(above: Howling Wolf (Southern Cheyenne Indian, 1849 - 1927), The warriors making their grand entry into the Medicine Lodge before beginning the dance. They fire first at the image hanging from the center pole. One band has just arrived and another is approaching the Lodge, 1874-1875, Pen, ink, and watercolor on ledger paper, Oberlin Ledger - pg. 56. Gift of Mrs. Jacob D. Cox, 1904.1180.13)

 

The drawing illustrated here depict a moment from the Sun Dance ceremony. Practiced by many Plains Indians, the Sun Dance was an eight-day renewal ritual, during which warriors pierced their skin and tethered themselves to a tree as a form of prayer. Prior to this act, prominent warriors entered a special lodge to dance and it is this moment that Howling Wolf illustrates, showing himself in the place of honor atop a horse leading in his fellow warriors. The work is a rare instance of Howling Wolf using both sides of the ledger opening to create a full scene.


(above: Howling Wolf (Southern Cheyenne Indian, 1849 - 1927), Howling Wolf, holding his lance, battles an enemy, 1874-1875, Pen, ink, and watercolor on ledger paper, Oberlin Ledger - pg. 6 . Gift of Mrs. Jacob D. Cox, 1904.1180.4)

 

In some drawings, Howling Wolf made compositional decisions to help suggest movement or the passage of time in an image, as seen here. By placing figures and horses on the periphery of the page he gives the scene a monumental quality, as if the events cannot be adequately contained within the margins. The use of hoof prints or gunfire to denote the passage of time was already commonplace, but here Howling Wolf is taking this convention and using it in a way unique to his aesthetic.
 
Along with his compositional techniques, Howling Wolf experimented greatly with his media of pen, watercolor and crayon. His color palette exhibits a vibrant quality, suggesting the work of a skilled artist still interested in experimentation. Additionally, Howling Wolf blended colors to create new tones and explored different ways to render textures. For example, the two drawings on display in this case both exhibit the dappled effect he often used for horses and fresh blood.

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