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Browse: Indigenous Flatstyle Paintings

Peyote Man

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Female Figure

Kiowa (Cáuigù)1 artist Woody Big Bow’s Female Figure, painted in the Kiowa Style,2 celebrates the everyday experience of early twentieth-century Indigenous women. The doll-like figure here carries a woven basket as she carefully traverses a stony landscape dotted with tufts of wild grasses. Her black and red velveteen Woodlands-style moccasins have a puckered toe and are decorated with white beadwork. The linework in the tips of her long black braids is echoed in the linework on the edge of her shawl as well as the patches of buffalo grass, creating a balanced composition.

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Mother and Child

In Mother and Child, Marian Terasaz depicts a Comanche woman caring for her newborn infant. She sits comfortably on the ground, embracing her child’s cradleboard, and her posture, unbraided hair, and downcast eyes create a sense of intimacy, peace, and safety. Even though the baby’s face is not visible, the swaddling clothes bulging through the cradleboard’s laces indicate the infant’s presence.

Terasaz has portrayed the woman wearing a cream-colored braintanned buckskin dress with detailed geometric beadwork along the sleeves. The brightly colored sash around her waist seems to fall against an implied floor line, and the thinly cut fingertip fringe from her sleeve drapes over her leg to the floor. The cradleboard, painted a vivid blue, is anchored to a wooden lattice adorned with two stars made from brass upholstery studs. The foot of the cradleboard has two painted flaps with peyote-stitch beadwork, a technique in which the beads are stitched together tightly with thread in horizontal rows and then fastened by thread and red-dyed horsehair tassels. In the lower left corner, the artist inscribed her Comanche name followed by the date: “Aukemah –’38.” Flatstyle paintings such as this have a representational, narrative approach, presenting the viewer with solid color fields and a limited or nonexistent background.

—Jordan Poorman Cocker, Henry Luce Foundation Curatorial Scholar for Indigenous Painting Collection Research, 2021

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Lullaby

Lullaby depicts a Kiowa (Cáuigù)1 mother holding her child up toward the sky as she looks upward, her lips parted in song. The mother’s cheeks are adorned with red ocher paint. She is wearing a yellow painted Cáuigù buckskin dress with beadwork at the sleeve line and skirt tail, and her belt has a worked silver drop trailing from beneath her fingertip-length fringed sleeves. Her beaded leggings are made from braintanned hide, whitened by the tanning process. The child is swaddled in a Cáuigù cradleboard, designed and created by the family’s matriarchs. Intricate beadwork has been sewn along both right and left panels, and the beaded cradle casement was constructed from hide. The cradle is fastened to a wooden lattice, with twisted hide fringes sewn to the footer.

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Kiowa Flute Player

The painting depicts a Kiowa (Cáuigù)1 husband and wife at dusk, near their cold-weather home. We can tell that it is cold from their warm attire, and because the top of the tipi is darkened by smoke from a fire. The couple is preparing to end the day with prayer, and the man is playing a flute carved from wood, with a bird effigy perched between the lip plate and finger holes. The flute is adorned with thinly cut buckskin strips decorated with beads and tipped with feathers from the female northern flicker, sometimes called a yellowhammer.

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Mother and Child

Mother and Child depicts a Kiowa (Cáuigù)1 woman carrying her child in a cradleboard. The mother’s scalp is decorated with yellow paint, and her cheeks and the child’s are adorned with red ocher. Her black wool blanket has a beaded blanket strip at the hemline, and her buckskin dress has been painted green and yellow and adorned with beadwork details. Her yellow-painted leggings have cut fringes along the tops.

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Kiowa Family

Bou-ge-Tah’s true-to-life scenes provide an autoethnographic narrative of her experiences of Kiowa (Cáuigù)1 life, and her boldly delineated portraits are distinguished for their articulation of Kiowa social reality. Kiowa Family; Kiowa Mother & Children is in the Kiowa style, in which figures and forms are depicted without shading; this style has roots in the ledger art of the 1880s and Indigenous Plains region pictorial art. Bou-ge-Tah’s works focalize family relationships from a female perspective: the artist met many of her subjects through kinship connections, having been raised in her Indigenous community on ancestral territories in southwest Oklahoma.

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Kiowa Family Moving Camp

In Kiowa Family Moving Camp, Kiowa (Cáuigù)1 artist George “Dutch” Silverhorn combines elements of Flatstyle painting, such as a void background, with attributes of ledger art, including the use of objects and attire to inform viewers about the subjects’ identities. This tempera painting portrays a multigenerational family in graceful movement while they travel from one encampment to another, traversing ancestral trails across the Great Plains. The family’s casual ease and contentment on their journey locates the scene in pre-reservation life, before 1867.

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The Sign in the Fall

The Sign in the Fall depicts a Kiowa (Cáuigù)1 husband and wife seated atop a hill witnessing a seasonal event. The man, with one arm around his wife, points to the sign mentioned in the title: the sun, low on the horizon, with rings. He wears an eagle feather on his braided scalp lock, which falls down his back, and his hair is parted and braided, with two beaded adornments tied to the braids at the nape of his neck. A bandolier consisting of two strands of mescal beans falls from his left shoulder, and a yellow medicine tie fastens the strands together; both of these objects relate to spiritual practices. He wears a red wool breechcloth with a beaded knife sheath on his belt, and his beaded, loom-worked garters are tied below the kneecap. His moccasins are painted and beaded. A hand-carved flute lies on the ground behind the couple.

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Contest Dance

Contest Dance depicts two Kiowa men in mid-motion, performing what is sometimes referred to as the War Dance. (The War Dance in its contemporary form is a type of contest dance.) The dancers wear ornate headdresses made from deer-tail hair or porcupine hair adorned with two eagle feathers, jewel-toned breechcloths, and bustles made of eagle wings. Over their shoulders are loom-worked beaded strips, which are fastened at the belt. Both wear beaded armbands tied at the biceps and beaded cuffs tied at the wrist, as well as silver-bell garters tied at the knees and around the ankles. Groups, and occasionally two people (as seen here), perform many types of contest dances today, always with musical accompaniment. Both men and women can compete, although the dancers are primarily men. Powwows with contest dances take place annually during the spring, summer, and fall.

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Woman Dancer

In Woman Dancer, Marian Terasaz depicts a Comanche woman holding a wooden lance. Her buckskin dress has loomed beadwork across the shoulders, and her woman’s breastplate is made of thin, hair-pipe bone beads. Her belt, of darkly colored saddle leather, is decorated with two rows of small German-silver brass brads. The beaded pouch hanging from her belt would have held medicines, plants, paints, or other small objects. Her leggings are Comanche style, recognizable by their characteristic outer flaps, and are painted with orange and green ocher. In the lower right corner, the artist has inscribed her Comanche name followed by the date: “Aukemah –’38.”

In this Flatstyle painting, the subject is isolated in mid-motion. The background or context for the figure or activity would be filled in by privileging the perspective of the Indigenous audience. That is, the perspective of the artist and her relationships to home, community, and place are essential to completing the visually unspoken context. Here, the woman is attending a ceremony. The frontal perspective indicates that Terasaz attended this same ceremony, because artists created paintings such as this from memory, depicting a moment that they witnessed or participated in. Flatstyle art originally mimicked ledger art (see, for example, this drawing by Red Eagle) in that it was autobiographical. The artist needed to be present to create and then depict this memory. Flatstyle artists began depicting other people’s memories only after realizing that there was a market for works in this style. Artists such as Woodrow Wilson “Woody” Crumbo (1912–1989) and others imitated and augmented these styles, generating stylistic variations in the genre.

—Jordan Poorman Cocker, Henry Luce Foundation Curatorial Scholar for Indigenous Painting Collection Research, 2021

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