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Legacy of Quiltmaking: Hówašte Artist Norma Blacksmith

October 29, 2019

 


 

Norma Blacksmith

Norma Blacksmith was 12 years old and living in Oglala, SD on the Pine Ridge Reservation when her mother taught her how to make star quilts. Now, at the age of 79, Norma continues to create these quilted works of art, and carries on the legacy of her family by teaching others.

“I’ve taught several people... my daughter-in-law and my niece. I’m trying to teach my granddaughters how, but they don’t have the patience,” she says, laughing.

Though she has a quilting machine that she uses with the help of her son, Norma still likes to sew by hand, either using the strip method, or sewing diamond by diamond, depending on the design. “I like to hand quilt because it’s relaxing and it gets your mind off of everything,” she says. Norma specializes in adult-sized quilts, and over the course of her life has created at least ten new designs, including a tribal flag with nine tipis.

Though a quilt can serve as a practical item, used for warmth and decoration, in the Lakota culture star quilts take on a much greater significance. When presented to a student at high school graduation or a family at a loved one’s wake, a star quilt is a symbol of honor. Of her motivation for making star quilts, Norma says, “I make them to help people. I donate to somebody graduating who doesn’t have one, or when I go to a wake, if they don’t have star quilts, I donate one. I also honor veterans, and I have done big honorings at powwows.”

The artistry and cultural significance of Norma’s work will soon be recognized at the International Quilt Museum in Lincoln, NE. When Norma noticed and mentioned the lack of Native American representation among the quilts on display during a visit to the museum, she was invited by the staff to create two quilts to be unveiled in November. One of the quilts is the original tribal flag, accompanied by an explanation of the symbols.

The other quilt to be displayed in the museum, entitled The Legacy of the Lakota Legends, depicts both a personal and universal message for Norma. The quilt features five generations of athletes in Norma’s own family, specifically basketball players.

Though the names of Norma’s family members are embroidered on the quilt, Norma says, “It’s not just about my family, it’s about these kids here [living on Pine Ridge Reservation], and how, no matter what they’re going through at home, basketball motivates them. Their parents could be poor, or having a hard time, but they are still going to play basketball. That’s what that quilt represents: the Lakota athletes, not just my kids, but all the kids here. That no matter what we go through, we can still be something and achieve something that makes us feel good about ourselves.”

 

 

 

Photos © Red Cloud Indian School 


 

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