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Central Plains

ca. 1840

buffalo hide, paint

height: 35 ½"
width: 70 ¾"

Inventory # P4074



Reportedly found in a barn in Upstate New York


Ewers, 1939, pl. 23

Predominantly created by male artists, figurative paintings on robes of buffalo or elk hide were created to express the martial accomplishments or “war records” of individual warriors on the Great Plains. By picturing heroic achievements in battle such as striking or killing an enemy, the wearing of such a robe strengthened the status of both individuals and families. In the magnificent example seen above, nine red and blue horses are evenly arranged in three frieze-like rows across the surface of the robe. The artist has given great care to the overall balance of the composition, precisely aligning each horse along a vertical and horizontal axis. Each figure is rendered with astute attention to anatomic detail. The imagery is unusual in the absence of the human figure. Instead, the composition emphasises the centrality of the horse to warfare, hunting, religious life and mobility on the Plains. In the 19th century, a Plains warrior was conceptually inseparable from his horse. By suggesting the greatness of his herd, the artist of this outstanding robe illustrates his prowess and resulting rank within his community.

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