New Exhibit Looks at the Evolution of Lakota Quilting

posted February 4, 2016 

The Heritage Center’s gallery walls are now covered with vibrant, intricate quilts. Some feature the traditional sunburst design of the Lakota quilts that are often presented as ceremonial gifts to honor or remember loved ones. Others, made by contemporary artists, present a more modern interpretation of textile tradition. Together as a collection, says curator Ashley Pourier, they tell the story of a Native art form that has continued to evolve through history.

“Lakota people have always worked with textiles, but quilting began when missionaries arriving in the 1900’s taught Lakota women to sew using European styles. Native women quickly adapted the art form for their own culture and their own lives, incorporating traditional designs that were once painted on buffalo robes,” said Ashley. “Quilts became much more than something to keep warm with—they became a symbolic gift to mark major moments in life, like marriage and childbirth. And today, quilting is truly an art. Instead of using quilts in our daily lives, we often hang them as ornaments. We wanted to show that progression over time, and celebrate the amazing work of our quilt artists.” 

The quilt exhibit started with Ashley’s vision—looking at the gallery’s open, white walls, the idea of seeing them adorned with beautiful textiles suddenly captured her. The Heritage Center shared an open call for local Lakota quilters to enter their latest creations. Ashley then mixed local entries with a number of pieces from The Heritage Center’s permanent collection. The resulting exhibit includes over 30 quilts from the 1980’s to today. They illustrate both traditional and modern design and the connection between them. According to Ashley, each one tells its own story. 

“One quilt, by artist Vi Colombe, is actually a round circle rather than a square. It’s a great example of how history and modernity can exist in the same piece.” she explained. “Our museum educator will be able to use it to teach students how buffalo robes were used and what they meant during class tours and and in afterschool art programs. It’s a wonderful example of the connection between cultural history and contemporary art.” 

Another quilter, Tillie Hawk Eagle, shared her passion for quilting in her artist’s statement for the show. 

“I began sewing 11 years ago as a project for my art class. I was taught to sew by hand. What started as a hobby soon became an interest and over time turned into a passion,” she wrote. “I enjoy being creative and using my imagination with my designs. Each quilt serves a special purpose but each is equally important.” 

The quilt show is open now through May 21, and the gallery’s hours are Tuesday through Saturday from 9 am to 6 pm.


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Photo © 2016 Red Cloud Indian School, Inc.