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Browse: Indigenous Flatstyle Paintings

Peyote Man

Kiowa (Cáuigù)1 artist Monroe Tsatoke, a member of the Kiowa Six art collective,2 produced iconic, late-career self-portraits, but he also painted subjects he encountered in his life, such as this representation of a Native American Church (NAC) peyote ritual. After he was diagnosed with tuberculosis, Tsatoke became a spiritual practitioner in the NAC. His dedication to faith in DawK’ee (God) was a pivotal life calling for the artist, and one for which he was known prior to his untimely death at age thirty-two.

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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.

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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. Kiowa (Cáuigù)1 artist Spencer Asah was a member of the Kiowa Six artist collaborative, whose collective artworks came to be known as Kiowa Style or Oklahoma Flatstyle, referring to the Plains figurative paintings devoid of background. Contest Dance is in the Kiowa Style. Asah lived during the post-reservation era when Kiowa dances, ceremonies, and spiritual practices—as well as other cultural elements such as Indigenous languages, hunting and fishing, and so on—were banned by the federal government; in essence, this painting depicts an illegal activity.2 During Asah’s lifetime the punishment for violating these laws and policies could mean the withholding of food rations, beatings, imprisonment, or death. That he, a survivor of the reservation system, chose to paint this scene is profound. —Jordan Poorman Cocker, Henry Luce Foundation Curatorial Scholar for Indigenous Painting Collection Research, 2021 _____________________________ 1 Cáuigù is the correct identity used by the Kiowa Tribe. 2 The Ghost Dance, for example, was banned by the Bureau of Indian Affairs in 1890. Eventually federally appointed Indian agents banned all ceremonies they felt weren’t Christian. This ban lasted until the American Indian Religious Freedom Act (AIRFA) was passed in 1978. See Kyrova, “Let’s Dance.”

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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.”

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