Oct
13
2011

If contemporary Dakota star quilts and painted bison hides are rooted in the same tradition...

Painted Bison Hide, Dakota, in the collection of Museo di Scienze Naturali Encirco Caffi, Bergamo Italy
Painted Bison Hide, Dakota, in the collection of Museo di Scienze Naturali Encirco Caffi, Bergamo ItalyCourtesy Museo di Scienze Naturali Encirco Caffi, Bergamo Italy
If contemporary star quilts and painted bison hides are rooted in the same tradition, that means women were (and still are!) important producers of ceremonially painted arts in Dakota communities in 1823.

Ethnographic accounts prior to the 1970s often left women out of the picture regarding the production of art. Specifically, western anthropologists suggested ceremonial and “high” art was the work of men, when in fact women were the primary tanners and painters of hides.

Patricia Albers and Beatrice Medicine edited an important volume, "The Hidden Half, Studies of Plains Indian Women" in 1983. One article discusses the development of star quilts from hide painting traditions. This isn’t a new story—centuries-old forms and designs are adapted according to new materials, tools, and ideas—however, this dialogue is helping me consider the two painted bison hides and the importance of women in the Beltrami story.
Star Quilt, Dakota; Collection of the Science Museum of Minnesota A91:13:1
Star Quilt, Dakota; Collection of the Science Museum of Minnesota A91:13:1Courtesy Science Museum of Minnesota

Designs on the Beltrami painted hides consist of radiating concentric circles, sometimes called headdress, sun, or star designs. Contemporary star quilts usually employ an 8-pointed star motif. According to ethnologies and Dakota oral histories, the 8-pointed star represents Venus, or the Morning Star and carries various meanings including immortality and death. Red painted bison hides historically wrapped the dead, and Dakota people still use star quilts during funerals. Today, people gift star quilts to denote passages in life like marriage and the birth of a child, and to honor a person.

Are the two traditions related? Why did Beltrami receive two painted hides? What do you think?

Your Comments, Thoughts, Questions, Ideas

Tilly's picture
Tilly says:

More on how Feminism shaped anthropological thought in the 1970s
http://minnesotahistory.net/?p=3299

posted on Fri, 10/14/2011 - 3:12am
Robin's picture
Robin says:

I had never known the story behind the Dakota Star quilts until now. I've seen similar quilts with painted bison hides at the Oklahoma Cultural Center. This is a great story behind American history.

posted on Wed, 01/11/2012 - 10:53am
Witryna's picture
Witryna says:

Thanks for sharing, I agree with you by the way. That was an amazing story.
Best,
Witryna

posted on Fri, 07/13/2012 - 3:16pm
Su Walker's picture
Su Walker says:

I am a quilter, specifically of morning star quilts for Lakota ceremonial use. I also know much of the history behind the use of these quilts as opagi gifts to chiefs, medicine men, and water pourers. I also know that the exchange of quilts is done for many reasons, and not just to ceremonial officials. It is NOT unusual for a person to receive several as gifts simultaneously. When a sacred Sun Dance ceremony is held, every one of the dancers presents a blanket such as a star quilt or a Pendleton wool blanket to the main Sun Dance chief, who then distributes them as he sees fit to the other chiefs he has appointed to assist with the ceremony. Here in Iowa, we just finished a dance that had 5 Chiefs from various nations helping and 16 dancers. Thus, you can see where each of them may have gone home with 3 blankets or quilts apiece.

posted on Fri, 06/29/2012 - 3:16pm

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