Lakota Sioux Beaded Hide Pictorial Vest
sinew-sewn and beaded using a variety of bead sizes in colors of dark and light blue, pea green, red white-heart, white, marcasite, pumpkin, and translucent green; front of vest depicting two sets of men in combat; reverse of vest depicts four warriors on horseback; vest lined with red patterned cotton, length 20 in. x chest 32 in.
Of the expansive range of North American Indian arts, pictorial beadwork with boldly worked figures ranks high in appeal and creative accomplishment, as well as in its portrayal of action-filled scenes that at the time of this vest’s creation undoubtedly related to specific events. The engaging scenes draw us close to the combatants themselves, and we wonder about the names and tribes of those who would actually have been involved in the actions being represented medium. Using the “lane stitch” (also know as “lazy stitch”) beadwork technique, the beadworker artist first applied the contoured figures to the vest, and then subsequently filled in the background with the rows of beads arranged in straight lanes. The colorful treatment of all figures is immediately apparent, especially the horses—orange, blue, yellow, red. Artistic license plays a role, as did the colors of beads available to the maker. The characteristics of this vest overall reveal it to be from the one of the bands of the Lakota (Western Sioux) -- most likely from either the Cheyenne River, Pine Ridge, Rosebud, or possibly the Standing Rock Reservation. The vest dates to the last decade or two of the 19th century, or first decade of the 20th.
Two action scenes-- each with a mounted warrior in combat with a pedestrian adversary embellish the front of the vest. On the left, as the vest is viewed, the mounted warrior wears a streamer of “hairplates” (metal discs) extending from the back of his head to his left foot. In his left hand he brandishes what might be a riding quirt or a warclub; in his right, what appears to be a saber. The man he engages in combat brandishes a warclub in his left hand, and holds a long, however undetermined, object in his other hand. The rider on the right side of the vest thrusts a lance with suspended pairs of eagle feathers at his adversary, who uses a rifle to parry the lance. In two instances perspective that is more realistic than the usual side-views of such scenes (as with the four figures on the reverse) is of particular note. Both horses on the front of the vest are pictured from the rear, with all four legs being indicated, and their heads turned to face the adversary afoot.
On the back of this vest, two pairs of individuals mounted on differently colored horses face each other. While the single trailer warbonnets of immature golden eagle feathers worn by all four figures are virtually identical, their clothing differs—shirts of various colors, and leggings and breechcloths of saved-list (undyed selvage) wool. Each carries objects in hand— a crooked lance, a staff with a single eagle feather at top (possibly a “coup stick”), a rifle, and what appears to be a partially visible staff with an eagle feather banner. It will be noted that in addition to the reins being indicated, the tail of each horse is “tied up”—that is, the hairs of the tail are doubled back in a bunch and secured with a strip of red saved-list wool. In effect, for all of the Plains tribes, this was the pervasive traditional sign for a horse prepared for or engaged in combat. It is possible that all four images represent the same personage, but this is conjectural. On the other hand, the identical yellow shield with avian form (likely an eagle) and pendent eagle feathers carried by both riders on the front of the vest alone indicate that the two persons are indeed the same, although different mounts are portrayed, as are other details— the set of hairplates on one side, and braids wrapped with red cloth on the other. The long bar with short vertical bars space equidistantly around the bottom of the vest, front and back, has been understood to represent both a picket fence for picket tying up horses, and as a meat drying rack, which serves as a symbol of plenty. The large red, equal-barred cross near the shoulder on each side of the front of the vest assuredly represent the Morning Star—a major celestial being for most, if not all, North American Indian peoples.
Benson L. Lanford
February 2, 2013