October 2007 Artifact of the Month

Artifact: Symbols of Prayer (Lakota Pipe Bag circa 1890)

Materials: Beads, porcupine quills, horse hair, leather





According to Rosalie Little Thunder (Lakota), since the Pipe is sacred, the Pipe Bag is “a symbol of prayer.”  In the past Pipe bags were made by women. It was the man’s role to handle ceremonial objects and to lead in ceremony, but women often decorated these sacred items with beauty and reverence.

Pipe bags are beautiful in their balance, symmetry, materials and craftsmanship. Traditional bags are divided into three or four sections. The featured bag follows the traditional form. Both sides of the bag are decorated. The bottom is a section of long fringe; above this is a quilled panel followed by a beaded panel; the top section is a minimally decorated hide segment with narrow rows of beading up the sides. Dyed horsehair in metal cones decorate the top section, including the drawstring.

Tobacco was placed in the bottom of the bag along with the Pipe bowl. The stem and bowl were always kept unattached in the bag until the Pipe was ready to be used. It is only when the bowl and stem are attached that the Pipe becomes active or alive.

Porcupine quillwork is unique to Native Americans. It was a painstaking labor of love. After obtaining the quills, the women would first wash the quills and then dye them. Several quills were then placed between the cheek and gum to soften, pulled through the teeth to flatten and woven in various patterns.

Quill work prevailed over bead work until 1830. When Europeans introduced the glass bead, American Indian women eagerly used them since beads were much simpler to work with. Plains bead workers, who were sometimes part of craft guilds, often named their designs.

Come see our new exhibit, Lifting Prayer: Sacred Plants and the Schingoethe Pipe Bag Collection, opening Thursday, October 11, 2007.