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Horse Dance Staff

Lakota
South Dakota

late 19th / early 20th century

wood, paint

width: 64"

Inventory # P1339

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acquired by the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City, MO


The use of horse effigy staffs among the Lakota was a privilege restricted to warriors whose horse had been killed in battle. Among the Lakota, these objects were referred to as “horse memorials” (Brasser: personal communication, Sept/96). Owners carried them in hand during warrior society ceremonials (see: Ewers 1986, fig. 133), and also in the secular Grass Dance. When re-enacting their exploits in war dances, the horse staff was held between the legs in the manner of a hobby horse (see: AIA 1978, pg. 59). 

This superb horse dance staff is the largest known example of this form. Carved from a single limb and retaining remnants of yellow, green and red paint, the sculpture though highly abstracted, fully captures the strength and grace of a horse in motion.