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October 28, 2011

A Song for the Horse Nation Spotlight: Horse Scenes on Tipis

20111024_01a_kjf_ps__DSC7723Lakota tipi, ca. 1890–1910. South Dakota. Muslin, paint. (20/7873) (Photo by Wayne Smith, NMAI)


The last object we'd like to spotlight from A Song for the Horse Nation is also the first object visitors will see when they enter the exhibition.

Unlike earlier versions that were constructed of hide, this Lakota tipi, circa 1890-1910, was constructed of canvas, which was rationed to tribes in the latter part of the 19th century when buffalo became scarce.

Oral traditions were frequently documented on tipis and hide robes; the main actions are usually read from left to right. Museum scholar Emil Her Many Horses, who curated A Song for the Horse Nation, says pigments like those that appear on this tipi were traditionally made using earth paints like charcoal (black) and ochre clay (red).

  5533115614_fec3011a6d_zDetail of the Lakota tipi during conservation at the museum's Cultural Resources Center (Photo by Molly Stephey)

This tipi is decorated with actual battle and horse-raiding scenes, and features the names of Lakota warriors who once rode the plains: Gray Eagle, Red Bear, West Bear and Kills Ten Enemies.

Like many of the museum's objects, this one required careful consideration for both handling and display. For example, when the tipi was set up in the gallery, the exhibition designer made sure the opening faced East, in keeping with tradition.

Angela Duckwall, an Andrew W. Mellon Fellow in Conservation at the museum's Cultural Resources Center, explains:

"The sewing of the tipi would have been carried out by women and owned by the women. The painting would have been done by men and was probably done to celebrate successes in battle. Its was likely done for a special occasion as opposed to being an everyday lodge.”

The tipi was erected in the exhibition space as it was originally intended: using pine poles to construct a conical framework, pulling the cover over this framework, and staking out the edge to hold it down and make it taut, Duckwall says. "My job as conservator for this piece is to ensure that it can withstand the handling and tension that it will endure while being set up and during the exhibit, and to try to prevent any damage as much as possible."


P1040745Angela Duckwall, Mellon Fellow in Conservation, and Susan Heald, Senior Textile Conservator, attaching the band to the bottom edge of the tipi cover. (Photo by Lauren Horelick)


“The drawings look like several artists participated in the creation of these scenes. There have been some alterations to the tipi cover in its history, including a slight shortening at both center edges that have folded in some of the figures," Duckwall notes.

"This has allowed us to see that at least two of the horses were repainted after this alteration and to see how much fading has occurred to the images since the alteration,” adding, “Conservators get very excited by these discoveries." 

A Song for the Horse Nation, which will be on view from October 29, 2011, through January 7, 2013, is curated by Emil Her Many Horses (Oglala Lakota). The accompanying book, edited by Her Many Horses and the scholar George P. Horse Capture (A’aninin), is available at the museum’s shops and the museum’s Web site.

For the online exhibition, visit http://nmai.si.edu/static/exhibitions/horsenation/

For an online overview, visit http://nmai.si.edu/explore/exhibitions/item/?id=905.


Fascinating. I can't wait to see it. It is probably even more fantastic in person.

Wow, this is incredibly beautiful. I love the dynamic nature of the painting, you can feel the horses galloping across the canvas. What a treasure!

This is amazing. I recommend kids teepee too.

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