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“Hanskaska: The Shirtwearers - Plains Indian Art of Cathy A. Smith” opens Thursday, Oct. 24, 2013, and runs through April 27, 2014, at the National Cowgirl Museum and Hall of Fame, 1720 Gendy Street in the Cultural District.
Regalia of Plains Indian Leaders Coming to Cowgirl Museum
“Hanskaska: The Shirtwearers – Plains Indian Art of Cathy A. Smith” is the first public exhibition of a collection of the precise recreations of the regalia of 12 historically important Plains Indian leaders. Representing 10 Native American nations, the collection includes ceremonial headdresses, shirts, leggings, moccasins, weapons and other accoutrements on loan from the estate of R. Michael Kammerer, Jr.
The exhibition is on loan from the private collection of the estate of R. Michael Kammerer, Jr. The late founder ofIndependent Television Network (now ITN Networks) had an avid interest in the West and collected Western and Native American art. Artist and cultural historian Cathy Smith of Santa Fe, N.M., who is the “adopted” daughter of a traditionalLakota medicine man and Sun Dance leader on the Cheyenne River Sioux Reservation, created the collection for Kammerer. The work was done by Smith and the artisans under her tutelage. Installed in 1999, the collection required over four years to execute, but the research and accumulation of understanding and artistic skill took Smith 25 years.
According to Smith, “Hanskaska” is the Lakota word describing a society of head men or chiefswho had earned the privilege to wear a sacredly ornamented shirt. Each of the men represented in the collection had this right.
The exhibition opens the same day that Smith will be inducted into the National Cowgirl Hall of Fame at its 38th annual Induction Luncheon in Fort Worth.
“We are proud to be the first public venue for this important historic exhibition of the work of one of our newest Honorees,” said Patricia Riley, executive director of the National Cowgirl Museum and Hall of Fame. The Cowgirl preserves the history and highlights the impact of extraordinary Western women from the mid-1800s to the present: the artists and writers, champions and competitive performers, entertainers, ranchers (stewards of land and livestock), trailblazers, and pioneers.
Highlights of the Exhibition
The Hanskaska collection of the regalia of 12 Plains Indian leaders consists of the clothing and accoutrements of each personage as determined from historical photographs, paintings and oral histories. Each of the 60 items was created in the same way that it was originally made, using the same materials and techniques of production: Big Horn Sheep, antelope, buffalo, and deer hides tanned with brains, original stock seed and pony beads, naturally dyed porcupine quills, sinew or linen thread, and original trade items such as wool stroud, brass hawk bells, buttons, silk ribbon, etc. The only concession to authenticity was the use of hand-painted turkey feathers in place of eagle, hawk, and owl.
The 10 Native American nations represented in the exhibition are the Blackfeet, Comanche, Crow, Hidatsa, Lakota, Northern Cheyenne, Southern Cheyenne, Mandan, Nez Perce and Pawnee.
Chiefs and other leaders featured are:
Ann Parker, who became chief of all the Comanches on the reservation and proved to be a forceful leader bringing his people into the 20th century; and
“The exhibition is significant because the 60 items in the collection are authentic recreations of documented pieces, the majority of which are no longer in existence or accessible to viewing except in rare historic photographs or paintings,” said Diana Vela, Ph.D., Associate Executive Director, Exhibits and Education, National Cowgirl Museum and Hall of Fame.
Smith said, “Since the recent repatriation laws discourage the purchase and private ownership of historical Native American art, reproducing these pieces allows them to be seen and appreciated in a politically and spiritually correct genre. The educational value of reproduction should not be underestimated: Many of the techniques used in the construction of this collection are all but lost or practiced by very few. This is a way of documenting the knowledge, keeping an art form alive, and passing it on to future generations. Possibly more significantly, the meaning and spiritual significance of the various rare materials, patterns of design, and ceremony that accompanies it all is being documented and preserved. The work in this collection has not been done in the last century, at least to this extent.”
Origin of the Kammerer Collection
The exhibition is on loan from the private collection of the estate of R. Michael Kammerer, Jr. In January 1996, Kammerer, the late founder of Independent Television Network (now ITN Networks), visited Smith’s studio in Santa Fe, N.M.
“Mike Kammerer was a patriot,” said Smith. “He loved the presidents; he collected busts of some of them. He believed in the ‘Code of the West.’ One day he walked into my studio and saw the war shirts in my collection. He went silent and just stared. Finally, he said he wanted to buy them all. I told him they weren't for sale and asked why he wanted them. He told me it was because they were great men on a caliber with the American presidents.”
“Their shirts were their badge of office, their biography, if you will,” Smith said. “The shirts are also full of spiritual significance and power. They lend power to the wearer.”
Smith said that she told him that she would create great shirts for him – Smithsonian quality shirts, not just movie costumes – and that if he wanted a collection, it should be of the highest quality. And so he commissioned her to make the shirts of historically important men.
“I showed him photographs from the Smithsonian photo archives of the great warriors and chiefs, and we chose 12 on the basis of the available documentation of their shirts,” she said. “We then decided to recreate the entire regalia in the photo or painting, not just the shirt; that meant leggings, moccasins, war bonnets, pipes and pipe bags, lances and shields, bow and quiver cases, knife sheaths, war axes and lances, buffalo robes, etc.”
About Cathy A. Smith
Emmy-Award winning costume designer, artist and cultural historian Cathy Smith was born in Deadwood, S.D., in the Black Hills area. She grew up on a cattle ranch in western South Dakota owned and operated by her grandparents and her parents, Milo and Norm Beug. As a young woman, Smith was “taken as a daughter in the Hunka ceremony” by Kenneth and Darlene Young Bear of the neighboring Cheyenne River Sioux Reservation.
As the “adopted” daughter of a traditional medicine man and Sun Dance leader, Smith, whose Lakota name is Wiyak’pa Win, was immersed in the ceremonies, traditions and culture of the Lakota Sioux. She learned porcupine quillwork in the holy way, through ceremony and apprenticeship with Mrs. Bertha Hump, one of the last of the Double Woman Dreamers among the Mniconjou, and thus earned the privilege to do the skilled quillwork required for the Kammerer collection. Like her adopted father, Kenneth Young Bear, Smith became a Sun Dancer and practitioner of the spiritual ways, which gave her the depth of understanding to attempt a work of the significance of the Kammerer collection. Her connection to and association with the elders of the Plains peoples gave her the ability to research obscure and esoteric information needed to produce this extraordinary collection.
She has devoted her life to the preservation and propagation of traditional Native American arts, including beadwork, quillwork and brain tanning, and is an authority on the material culture, costume, religion and lifestyle of the Plains Indians.
Smith also acts as a historical consultant for her expertise on the 19th-century cowboy and cowgirl. A costume maker and fine-art painter, she has more than 35 films to her credit, including "Comanche Moon," "Geronimo" and the historically authentic "Dances With Wolves." She received an Emmy Award for Excellence in Costume Design for the television miniseries "Son of the Morning Star."
In addition to her artwork, she is a writer, consultant, lecturer, and teacher, presenting at museums around the world. She has long been involved in an initiative to teach the ancient arts to Native youth.
For information, call (817) 336-4475 or (800) 476-3263 or visit www.cowgirl.net.