Exhibitions: Living Legacies: The Arts of the Americas

Plains Native American Hide Painting

Plains Native American Hide Painting, circa 1900. Attributed to Cadzi Cody, also known as Cotsiogo (1865–1912), Shoshone artist. Montana. Elk hide, pigment. Brooklyn Museum, Dick S. Ramsay Fund, 64.13

Most Plains Tribes painted geometric or figural designs with natural pigments on elk, buffalo, and deer hides that would be used as robes or tepee walls. By the 1870s, hide artists like Cadzi Cody (Cotsiogo), a member of the Wind River Shoshone tribe, developed pictorial styles and chose subjects that both affirmed native cultural identity and attracted an outside audience. This elk hide from about 1900 depicts two themes highly marketable to tourists visiting the Wind River Reservation.

In this hide painting, Cody combines historical and contemporary narratives by depicting both a buffalo hunt and the Wolf Dance. Buffalo had been eradicated from this region by the 1880s, and the Shoshone people, depicted here with bows and arrows, had been using modern rifles for quite some time. The Wolf Dance, or tdsayuge, represented in the center celebrated the return of a war party. It evolved into the Grass Dance, which is still performed today at all powwows (major dances and celebrations in the Plains and Eastern Native American regions). Cody depicts the dancers' elaborate clothing and war bonnets worn as part of the Wolf Dance's symbolic regalia. The buffalo head between crossed poles shown at the center of the painting is used only in the Sun Dance, a restricted, sacred ceremony performed to ensure long life. Although the ceremony was popular with anthropologists and tourists, the United States government viewed it as unacceptable. It appears that Cody deliberately depicted the buffalo head to attract paying clients, but placed it within the context of the more politically acceptable Wolf Dance to avoid conflict.