Exhibitions: Tipi: Heritage of the Great Plains

Blackfeet tipi

Tipi designs connect their owners with all other beings in the world as well as with their ancestors, who transfer designs to their descendants in visions. Design ownership means that a person has the right to pass that design to someone else through ceremony. The Bleeding Buffalo Skull design was given to Blackfeet artist Lyle J. Heavy Runner by his mentor, Robert L. “Rice” Crawford, who received it from his grandparents.

Tipi designs are read from the ground up, from earth to sky. The red triangles on the bottom are mountains; the yellow circles are starbursts or falling stars, indicating a lodge containing a medicine bundle (a sacred bundle containing medicines and other materials that provide power and protection). The main design of bleeding buffalo skulls can be interpreted as two standing men extending pipes and hatchets. The back of the tipi (not visible in this photo) features a red beaver lodge surmounted by a tree, referencing the fact that Crawford's grandparents were holders of the Beaver Medicine Bundle. The top of the tipi is painted with a rainbow of green (earth), yellow (sun), and blue (sky), above which is the North Star, and the yellow circles on the ear flaps represent the Big Dipper and the Pleiades.