Ramsey Library Exhibits

Ways of the People: The Buffalo Nation
Debbie Cross

waysbull.jpg (6126 bytes)This art exhibit is the culminating project for my Masters of Liberal Arts degree at UNCA. I have always had a great interest in anything related to Native Americans. Since meeting my Indian husband seven years ago, I have been able to learn about and practice their traditions. He taught me Indian beliefs and crafts, and our Lakota friend Crying Elk from the Rosebud Reservation in South Dakota taught me beadwork. My husband and I spent part of a summer with the Lakota of Pine Ridge, South Dakota, where we fell in love with the people and their homeland, and where I decided to do this work as my project.

The Lakota are one of the seven tribes of the Sioux nation. They moved from the Missouri area into the Great Plains when the Spaniards introduced horses. They were then able to migrate and follow the herds of buffalo on which their existence depended. The culture they created lasted less than one hundred years, but became the best known of all Indian cultures. It thrived until the white man encroached on their territory to the point of almost annihilating the race. waysdoll.jpg (27403 bytes)


wayspurse.jpg (25946 bytes) The purpose of this exhibit is to convey to the viewers a better understanding of what life on the Plains was like for the Lakota from the period of heavy contact with traders and settlers, around 1840, to the time when most of the Indians were placed on reservations, from about 1860 to 1870. This period showed a definite change in style in Lakota art due to different living conditions and the near extinction of the buffalo.


waysbull.jpg (6126 bytes)I hope to present a feeling of how art was intertwined in the belief that all things are connected. Each piece in the exhibit represents an item that was made and used by the Lakota. There was no art made for pure enjoyment, each item had a value either religious or spiritual or functional, and often all three existed within the same piece. Beadwork was never sold, but given away or sometimes traded for another piece. In using all parts of the buffalo, honor was always given the animal and thanks for the buffalo’s help in allowing the Indians to survive.
waysspoon.jpg (27494 bytes) To more fully understand the condition of the Lakota in this time period, I have  created each piece in this exhibit under conditions as close to the authentic as was possible. My husband and I dried, fleshed and scraped each hide I used for rawhide pouches and containers. I used original style antler awls, forged nippers in place of scissors, buffalo bone scraping and fleshing tools, and buffalo bones and sticks with which to paint. I found earth pigments mined in the Badlands of South Dakota for my colors.

I beaded with colors original to the time period and now difficult to find, and made jewelry with antique trader beads. Instead of thread, I used artificial sinew. Each stitch on the clothing I did by hand. Much research went into authenticating the beading styles and colors as uniquely Lakota.

waysbull.jpg (6126 bytes)In the process, I have learned many things, particularly concerning the roles and conditions of Lakota women. Women of the tribe spent their days assuring that their family’s and friends’ personal possessions and homes were decorated in a way they could be proud of. This secured for the women their own place of honor and respect within the tribe. I dedicate this exhibit to these women of the past, who toiled relentlessly on tasks they performed out of love, without the knowledge that 150 years later people in our society would still be admiring their work and attempting, as I have done, to create something from a time that we can never fully understand.

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