An Inventory of Lakota Women’s Traditional Artwork Collection

An Inventory of Lakota Women’s Traditional Artwork Collection

Collection Description:

Before contact with Euro-Americans, Lakota women created artwork utilizing materials from their surroundings or gained from trading with other tribes.  Lakota women’s creations are hardly the works of artists in isolation; they are the products of tradition and ritual that made traditional Lakota artwork a cultural force. The women’s creations typically contain symbols and patterns significant to their culture. 

The tradition of incorporating Lakota symbols into the designs of Lakota artwork continued into the beginning of the 20th century, however variations began to take shape. During this time, Lakota tribes signed the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1851, establishing the Great Sioux Reservation as well as other reservations. The building of the reservation system reflected the United States’ attempt at the cultural and economic assimilation of many plains tribes. On the reservations, Lakota women started to create traditional artwork to sell for profit as a means of economic stability. At the turn of 19th century many women started to incorporate patriotic symbols from the United States into their artwork, demonstrating their attempts at cultural assimilation as well as assimilation into the Euro-American market. Artwork, such as the material in this collection, was sold for monetary value to assist with the transition to reservation life.

The items in this collection were bought or taken by anthropologists, collectors, and others to document aspects of Lakota culture that many people during the 19th and 20th centuries feared would no longer exist in the future. Avid collectors, like George Heye, the founder of the Museum of the American Indian, currently called the National Museum of the American Indian, traveled all over the United States looking for artifacts to collect. Many of the artifacts in this collection previously belonged to George Heye or to other 19th- and 20th-century collectors [Or is the period a smaller window?]. The materials are housed and displayed in museums and art galleries that are not near either of the Lakota reservations of today.

Scope and Content:

The artwork in this collection is organized by the museums and galleries that hold them.  The artifacts include pipe bags, dolls, moccasins, and clothing all containing traditional bead or quill work.  Many of the items in the collection were not traditional garments made for the Lakota, but were made as items to sell, or they have designs that are not Lakota designs, such as the American flag.

Rights Use Statement:

This collection has made these digitized collections accessible for purposes of education and research for a class. The copyright of each item belongs to the repositories that they are housed in. The reseacher is required to secure use permission from the repositiories on their own. Upon request, I can remove material from public view if a rights issue arises.