Mitchell Museum
of the American Indian

3001 Central Street
Evanston, IL 60201

Dazzling Colors:  The Evolution of Plains Reservation Art, July 3 - October 17, 2010

In 1881, army officer John Gregory Bourke witnessed a Lakota Sun Dance, a ceremony later banned by the United States government.  "Nothing could be added in the way of dazzling colors," Bourke observed.  "Calico shirts in all the bright hues of the rainbow, leggings of cloth, canvas, and buckskin, moccasins of buckskin, crusted with fine beadwork were worn by all."

Dazzling colors created by Plains Native artists using paints, beads, dyes, fabrics, and many more materials, have been a creative tradition throughout the history of the region's art.  From early history through the tumultuous removal period and up to the present, Native peoples of the Plains have adapted and evolved in materials, styles, and techniques of art making, allowing artists a creative outlet, a recorded history, a profitable venture, and a way to honor past traditions.

Beginning with explanations of the politics and legislation that led to the creation of reservations, the early history in the exhibit will also feature reproductions of maps illustrating the shrinking size of Native land.  Policies such as the Indian Removal Act of 1830, which began the enforced emigration of American Indians into the Western United States, the Indian Appropriations Act that began the reservation system, and the Dawes General Allotment Act of 1891, which created a system of individual land ownership that drastically reduced the amount of Native-owned land, will be explained as they relate to the changing lives of the Plains Indians.

Before legislative decisions forced Plains tribal groups onto reservations, art making flourished using a variety of materials.  Perhaps most important to the art making process was the buffalo.  Hides were made into many utilitarian and beautiful pieces such as clothing, robes, tipis, and dolls.  Horns became hide scrapers used by groups of women in hide preparation.  Tails became paint brushes.  Teeth and bones became jewelry.  The great herds of buffalo that roamed the Plains were essential not only to art making, but also to life.

Fifteen years after the completion of the Transcontinental Railroad, the buffalo were nearly eradicated and Plains tribal groups had to adapt to using new materials.  The enforced leisure of the reservation system combined with the introduction of new materials and techniques though increased contact and boarding school education led to many changes and innovations in artistic creation.  For example, with the depletion of the bison, hide painting became ledger art, as resourceful men used military ledgers to keep the style alive while patterns present on hide paintings were fused with women's new machine sewing techniques to create the famous Lakota star quilts.

These artistic traditions persist to the present day.  As pictorial beadwork became a wildly popular style among collectors and tourists, Plains beadwork flourished.  Traditions from before, during, and after the reservation period are carried on by contemporary Plains Native artists who continue doll making, quilting, painting, leather working, and beading. 

Dazzling Colors:  The Evolution of Plains Reservation Art highlights dozens of artifacts from the Mitchell Museum's permanent collection, including beaded clothing, quillwork, dolls, beaded purses, and more, using these pieces to tell the story of continuity and change at a time of rapidly changing lifeways for Plains tribal groups. 

Admission to the exhibit is included with museum admission, which is $5 for adults, $2.50 for seniors, students, teachers (with valid school ID), and children. Maximum admission per family is $10. For information, call 847-475-1030.

Tuesday – Saturday:
10am – 5pm
Thursday: 10am – 8pm
Sunday: 12pm – 4pm

Adults: $5.00
Children, students, teachers, seniors: $3.00
Mitchell Members: FREE
Tribal Members: FREE



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