- Plains Indian Buffalo Cultures: Art from the Paul Dyck Collection by Emma I. Hansen
By Emma I. Hansen. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2018. ix + 178 pp. Illustrations, notes, bibliography, index. $34.95, paper.
Joining an array of beautifully illustrated books that chart expansive private collections of American Indian art objects is Emma I. Hansen’s analysis of the Paul Dyck collection of about 2,000 objects, acquired in 2007 by the Plains Indian Museum at the Buffalo Bill Center of the West. In the footsteps of his father, Dyck avidly pursued acquiring objects for his “Buffalo Culture Collection” over his lifetime, and also used his collection as inspiration for his own art-making.
Hanson’s accessibly written and well researched volume presents a broad selection from this collection which largely comprises prereservation-era objects made by citizens of the Crow, Pawnee, Lakota, Arapaho, Cheyenne, [End Page 386] Shoshone, Hidatsa, Mandan, Arikara, Dakota, Kiowa Comanche, Blackfoot, Otoe, Nez Perce, and other indigenous nations in the Great Plains. Hanson’s analysis simultaneously considers points of cultural overlap and shared artistic interests across these communities while flexibly allowing for occasional divergences and cultural specificity as appropriate, such as for beading techniques. She interweaves discussion of the lineage of Plains Indian art traditions with the adaptability of art production during the beginning of the reservation era.
After a foreword by Oglala Lakota artist Arthur Amiotte, thematic chapters cover (1) the context of “Buffalo Culture” societies; (2) the material culture of warrior and hunting societies; (3) an analysis of a muslin painting of warrior life by Apsáalooke (Crow) painter Mee-nah-t-see-us (White Swan); (4) the role of women in Plains Indian art production; (5) the function of visual culture to bestow leadership and respect, both for men and women; (6) the relationship of art to horse culture in the Plains; and (7) the legacies of the Dyck collection, as well as a discussion of its occasional reservation-era artifacts, like ration cards and passports.
The volume might do more to show the reciprocity between the details of the aesthetics of the objects and their histories, contexts, and uses, as well as framing the Dyck collection objects in a larger trajectory of Plains Indian art production. For example, how does Meenah-t-see-us’s depiction of himself as a warrior scout working with the Seventh Calvary in 1876 overlap with and distinguish itself from Lakota painter Mató Nájin’s (Standing Bear’s) depiction of the Battle of Little Bighorn (Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2017.718.2)?
Yet the volume is at its best in Hanson’s investments in indigenous voices in the textual as well as the visual by drawing a large percentage of its primary and secondary source material from indigenous accounts. Her project also draws welcome attention to the role of women in Plains Indian society, in a deep reading of their labor of producing art objects, in participating in ceremonies, and in developing societies for art production. For scholars of Native American art, spiritualities, and history as well as for the lay reader, this book blurs the boundaries between traditional and adapted art practices, in the process revealing the cultural layers of Plains Indian nations as well as their resilience.