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Entrance way to countless treasures

Follow That

Article and photos by Kathleen Walls


What better way to learn about a people and their culture is to study their art. For the art of the Sioux people, Prairie Star Gallery in Sioux Falls is place to visit. First thing to know is that "Sioux" is a nomenclature used by Europeans to designate several tribes and means "Little Snakes in the Grass." These proud people call themselves Lakota, Dakota or Nakota which mean "friendly people. There are all just different dialects of the Lakota people.

Linda explains about a piece of art

Linda Boyd and her husband, John, opened the gallery in May 97 Linda explained they were unable to get a loan as everyone said, "It's not possible for a teacher and an engineer to make a profit selling art." Especially with their "radical idea": actually buy the art of the Lakota not consign it. But teaching for 25 years some of that time in the South Dakota prison system had given Linda a respect for the Lakota. She saw them being discriminated against and forced into the position of being so far below the national poverty limit it was unreal. So John with complete faith in Linda's vision agreed that they would mortgage their home to finance the gallery. Linda began traveling to nearby reservations to purchase art. They started with 100 families. Now they have 1000 families. Linda feels that they may not have made a huge difference in the Lakota' entire culture but she does feel that because of Prairie Stat some of the families do live better.

When Columbus "discovered" America there were 30 million people, whose ancestors had discovered it long ago, and two million buffalo on the American continent. By 18 90 only 400 buffalo and two million native people.

Somehow those remaining native people had preserved s remnant of their culture. Prairie Star is where they offer it to the rest of the worked.

To the Lakota, the medicine wheel with its four colors, red, white, yellow and black, is the most secret symbol. These colors of the wheel represent many things to them: seasons of the year; the earth's elements, fire, water, wind and air; the races of man; even the four directions. It represents may other thing and is used as both art and sacred symbols.

Perhaps it can also tell of the four things the gallery's art represents: the native people's culture, history, beauty and spiritualism.

There are lots of Medicine Wheel motifs


You will see a lot of eagle feathers art at Prairie Star. When a Lakota called at another's tipi, and found on one at home, he left an eagle feather with a specific notching in the feathers. When the absent person returned home, he knew exactly who had come calling by the way the feather was notched.

Another object you will see in Prairie Star is the turtle was the native people's calendar. Linda turned over a turtle shell and explained the number of segments on the outer shell of a turtle is 28, representing the number of days in a moon cycle. There are 13 segments in the inner part of the shell of a turtle representing each one of the 13 moons in a lunar year cycle.

During the course of a year, there actually are 13 cycles of the moon each lasting approximately 28 days each. Our current system of measuring time, the Gregorian calendar, creates an artificial cycle and uses a system with 12 months of varied lengths.

Bruce Contways' Sina Tatanka


The history of the Lakota is intertwined with the buffalo so many of the art objects found here depict the buffalo. A particularly haunting sculpture is for me the most moving piece of art at the gallery. It is Bruce Contways' Sina Tatanka (Buffalo Robe.) The life-sized bronze sculpture depicts a Native American elder wrapped in a buffalo robe. His warrior's face is gazing skyward. There is a suggestion of arms, legs and a torso but the robe is hollow as his life must now be with all his culture stripped away by a white man's society. For when the buffalo disappeared, so did the traditional way of life for the Lakota.

During the westward movement, the Lakota were sent to reservations. The young people were taken from the families and sent to the white man's schools and forced into the white ways. They would be made to write English on their tablets called ledgers but after lessons were over, they were allowed to draw. What they drew were pictures representing their Lakota heritage. Today that is called Ledger art. It is very popular at the gallery.

A medicine wheel pattern quilt



Surprisingly you see few pipes displayed as art. To the Lakota, what Europeans called "the peace pipe" and referred to as " canupa is" by Native Americans, is a sacred therefore when it is displayed here you will see that the stem and bowl are always separated. This is a sign of respect for a sacred object.

Many of the everyday items used by the Lakota also represented spiritual themes.



A native costume


Of course, all of the art pieces have a special beauty as well as a second deeper meaning. Flutes are works of art but they are also art in their own right for the music they create.

Another musical instrument that was important to all native people were the drums. You will find all type of drums here. Some appeal because of their beauty and some as a revered instrument.

Native costume and jewelry are all abundant here. Quilts and all manner of everyday items here are raised to the highest level of art.

In all of Sioux Falls, there is no place more revealing for the history, culture, spiritualism and beauty of the Lakota people that Prairie Star Gallery. So next time you are in South Dakota, just follow your star to Prairie Star.

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