This week’s post is by Morgan Two Crow, a student in Native American Art and Material Culture in Spring 2013. Students in the class wrote about work by Native American artists from the OSU Museum of Art permanent collection.
This 19th century Lakota beaded buckskin pipe bag is by an unknown artist. I estimate it is 19th century because of the use of glass beads. Pipe bags are designed to keep a sacred pipe safe and are one of the most beautiful expressions of Native American artwork you can find. The pipe bag is an essential article owned by all men in the pre-reservation days. The pipe bag held his pipe, pipe tamp, tobacco, and articles for lighting the tobacco. Although each bag is unique, the nationality of the maker can be determined by the beadwork found on the bag, as each tribal group across North America has its own traditional beadwork designs, and these design elements can be seen in all the beadwork done by that group.
Beadwork falls into two main groups, geometric and figurative. Geometric beadwork designs are mostly to be found in the pipe bags of the peoples of the Great Plains such as the Arapaho, Crow, Cheyenne and Lakota. Even within these groups there are distinct tribal differences, the Arapaho and Lakota tend to have spidery geometric designs while their neighbors, the Cheyenne, often produce beadwork with bold stripes of color. Figurative beadwork can also be found occasionally in the Plains, where designs such as horses, people and flags can be seen, but is mostly to be found in the beadwork from the Northern plains that stretch from the US across the Canadian border and on into the Canadian woodlands.
This incredible pipe bag has beautiful geometric beadwork designs done in the style commonly known as “The Lazy Stitch.” This lazy stitch technique of beading is well known amongst the Great Plains tribes, and resembles many of the “spidery geometric designs” of the Lakota peoples. The colors used on this pipe bag are white, red, green, blue, and yellow. The cross designs are parfleche boxes unfolded. The parfleche was used much like we use a bag or possibly a suitcase. Food, belongings, and supplies may have been stored in the parfleche. The triangular shapes are what the Lakota call “cloud designs.” The cloud is a part of the many spirits the Lakota believe in and can do many things such as strengthen them, cure them, make them invisible, etc. The red beadwork is the Lakota people’s “hour glass.” The line in the middle of the hour glass is the “canku” and the white resembles the purity of the contents within the bag. The side design is often called the “tracks.”