New Dolls Exhibition at the National Museum of the American Indian

. April 11, 2013

Visitors can celebrate the traditional attire of Plains and Plateau tribes through 23 colorful and meticulously handmade dolls in “Grand Procession: Dolls from the Charles and Valerie Diker Collection,” an exhibition opening Thursday, April 17, in the Sealaska Gallery at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian. The exhibition is on view through Jan. 5, 2014.

Typically made by Native women using buffalo hair, hide, porcupine quills and shells, figures like these have long served as both toys and teaching tools for American Indian communities. Outfitted in intricate regalia, these dolls—on loan from the Charles and Valerie Diker Collection—represent the work of five contemporary artists: Rhonda Holy Bear (Cheyenne River Lakota), Joyce Growing Thunder (Assiniboine/Sioux), Juanita Growing Thunder Fogarty (Assiniboine/Sioux), Jessa Rae Growing Thunder (Assiniboine/Sioux) and Jamie Okuma (Luiseño and Shoshone-Bannock). Their craftsmanship and attention to detail imbue these figures with a remarkable presence and power, turning a centuries-old tradition into a contemporary art form.

Through their brightly colored designs and accoutrements, each figure tells a unique story about a specific time and place. Holy Bear’s Maternal Journey, for example, depicts how a Crow woman caring for twins would have appeared as she traveled with her family across the Plains. The mother’s jingle dress and the horse’s regalia pay tribute to the magnificent beadwork and impressive equestrian parades for which the Crow are known and the male and female twins in the travois represent a Lakota origin story.

For Holy Bear, seeing her dolls on display at the Smithsonian brings her work full circle. As a teenager who had just moved from South Dakota’s Cheyenne Lakota Reservation to Chicago, she says she stayed connected to her indigenous roots by visiting the Plains Indians collection at the Field Museum. It was there that she discovered the delicate artistry of traditional dolls like the ones she creates today, though she has since replaced the cloth rags and cotton balls she used to make her first doll with century-old Venetian glass beads, turkey feathers, shells, animal hide and carved wood, among other materials.

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Category: Antiquities

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