If it is said that one of the clearest windows into the idiosyncrasies of a culture is through its clothing, then the National Cowgirl Museum and Hall of Fame’s current show, Hanskaska: The Shirtwearers – Plains Indian Art of Cathy A. Smith, could be a paradigm of understanding the 12 Plains Indian leaders, symbolizing the 10 Native American nations (such as Blackfeet, Comanche, Crow, Lakota, Nez Perce, and Pawnee), through the very clothes they proudly wore.
This is somewhat of a landmark show as it will mark the first ever public exhibition of an extensive collection of authentic recreations of the clothing and other “regalia” worn by those 12 historically highly significant Plains Indians chiefs. Everything is reproduced, from lavish ceremony-ready headdresses, to various types of leggings, shirts, weapons, moccasins, plus all manner of tribal accessories.
On loan from a private collection attached to the estate of R. Michael Kammerer, Jr., the late-creator of Independent Television Network, this show is a wide-ranging mirror of the fervent interest of Kammerer in Western and Native American art. But it actually was the cultural historian, and gifted artist, Cathy Smith – who just so happens to be an “adopted” daughter of a real-life Lakota medicine man – who labored mightily to create this collection of mostly religiously proscribed, heavily ornamented shirts. This collection ended up taking more than four years to put together fully.
The exhibition itself ultimately orbits around the artist, Cathy Smith’s, renditions and reproductions of the actual textile regalia worn by those 12 Plains Indian leaders. Basing her recreations on various historically accurate paintings, photos, and oral histories, Smith worked on 60 items, creating them using most of the original ingredients and materials once used by the original Native American clothiers. That means that Smith employed everything from antelope, buffalo, and deer skins all tanned with, yes, brains, along with stock seed, linen thread, brass bells, buttons, silk ribbon, and even porcupine quills – all to reach an unprecedented level of accoutrement authenticity. The only wholesale concession to the scarcity of material is the substitution of hand-tinted turkey feathers rather than feathers from owls, hawks, or, naturally, eagles.
Amongst the proud Native American tribesmen, showing their full clothing display, include Quanah Parker, (learn about Quanah Parker in Fort Worth) who was chief of all the Comanche people and was based on an Oklahoma reservation (don’t miss Parker’s moccasins, bandolier, lance, and war bonnet); Medicine Crow, a larger-than-life Crow chief whose shirt is made from the macabre-sounding brain-tanned deer hides, with stitched-in beads, silk ribbon and, yes, human scalp locks. Don’t overlook Pehriska-Ruhpa (Two Ravens), a main leader of the Hidatsa tribe, whose outfit boasts a hat festooned with literally hundreds of magpie and raven feathers, garnished with ermine fur. And not to be outdone, Kicking Bear, considered to be the band chief of a branch of the Lakota Sioux of South Dakota, is clearly proud of his outfit of brain-tanned antelope hides, tinged a kind of religious yellow-ochre and blue pigment, along with seed beadwork, and feathers meant to replicate an eagle.
The details: Hanskaska: The Shirtwearers - Plains Indian Art of Cathy A. Smith runs through April 27, 2014, at the National Cowgirl Museum and Hall of Fame, 1720 Gendy Street, in Fort Worth’s Cultural District. Admission: $8 for children ages 3-12, or senior citizens; $10 for adults above age-13. More information: 817-336-4475; 800-476-3263, or at www.cowgirl.net
National Cowgirl Museum and Hall of Fame