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Quilts and textiles


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Quilts as Expressions of Honor
"By making quilts and giving them away-it's like almost giving away part of yourself, because you're putting a lot of your energy and creative thoughts into it. I think it really fits into our whole culture...You can't compare it to going to the store and buying a gift and giving it to somebody else. The quilts sometimes might take you two or three years of your time, time that you really don't have, but you make that time, because you love that person and you want to make something special for him." --Lydia Whirlwind Soldier (Sioux), 1993.

In many Native communities, quilts are used to mark rites of passage or special occasions and to honor individuals for their achievements or contributions.

At naming ceremonies, quilts are given to community members in honor of the loved one being named. Upon high school or college graduation, students receive quilts in recognition of their academic accomplishments. Victorious athletes are awarded quilt. Veterans are honored with quilts to thank them for their bravery and sacrifice.

Anyone who has contributed significantly to his or her family's or community's well-being is honored, either by being given a quilt or having quilts given away on his or her behalf. Even at death quilts are used to honor and comfort. Lovingly-crafted textiles are wrapped around the body of the deceased at burial, given to pall bearers, and distributed at memorial giveaways.

Photo of Crazy Star Quilt Crazy Star Quilt
Nellie Star Boy Menard (Sioux)
Rosebud, South Dakota
79" x 96"
Collection of MSUM, acc#7579.2
Photo by Elbinger Studios, Inc.

Nellie Star Boy Menard was recognized with a National Heritage Fellowship in 1995 for her role in teaching and perpetuating Sioux quiltmaking and other crafts traditions. A prolific and creative artist, she combined a different design for every other point in this Star quilt made for her grandson upon his return from military service.

Among the Sioux and other Plains Indians, the Star and its variations have been by far the most popular quilt patterns used in the mid-to-late twentieth century and have become an integral part of many native community-based traditions. The popularity of this pattern has increased among quilters of other tribes as they have witnessed the importance of the Star pattern in Plains Indian life. The pattern and its variations were well-known among quilters of other cultureal backgrounds, but the image of the star has special meaning for native peoples and numerous stories are told of ist origin and how the Star pattern came to be so popular among native peoples.

Photo of Honor the First Nations quilt Honor the First Nations Quilt
Pat Courtney Gold (Wasco)
Scappoose, Oregon
69" x 85"
Collection of MSUM, acc# 1996:124
Photo by Elbinger Studios, Inc.

I wanted to do a quilt to represent various tribal entities throughout the U.S. I could not include all nations, and it was hard picking the art forms on this quilt. Each block represents a different tribal art and/or region. I especially wanted to show respect for the elders in a block. I chose the clothing style during transition from the "traditional ways" to the "white man" ways. I felt this was a painful time in tribal history, and the strength of the generation was passed to us.-- Pat Courtney Gold

Photo of Seven Clans quilt Seven Clans Quilt
ca. 1990s
Attributed to Minnie Clinton (Cherokee)
Tahlequah, Oklahoma
73" x 85"
Collection of MSUM, acc# 7605.2
Photo: Elbinger Studios, Inc.

The seven clans of the Cherokee tribe are embroidered in the blocks on this tied quilt. Clan names are given both in Cherokee and English.

Honoring Graduates/St. Francis High School
"These young people are embarking on a journey during which they will be asked to walk in both Native and non-Native worlds, to keep their traditions, and to strive to continue their education, The Star quilt represents life's journey--we are born from the stars, and at death we return to the stars. The aspirations of the school and the tribe are embedded in each quilt." --Charmaine Young (Lakota)

In Sioux communities, quilts are given to graduating students at high school and college graduation ceremonies. For instance, at the St. Francis High School commencement ceremony on the Rosebud Reservation in South Dakota, quilts, purchased by the school from local quilters, are placed on the chair of each senior. Graduates carry or waer the quilts around their shoulders as they exit the ceremony. At the receiving line following the ceremony, some graduates receive additional quilts from family members and friends.

This caption belongs to a historic image on the text panel. Permission has not been granted to display it in the online version of the exhibit.
Prior to commencement exercises Star quilts are place on the chairs of the graduating seniors at the 1996 St. Francis Indian High School on the Rosebud Reservation in South Dakota.
Photo by Katherine Fogden, National Museum of the American Indian, Smithsonia Institution, 1996.

This caption belongs to a historic image on the text panel. Permission has not been granted to display it in the online version of the exhibit.
At the close of the St. Francis Indian School graduation ceremony, the graduates form a receiving line in the area outside the gym. Many are draped in their quilts as they greet family and community members before a potluck meal.
Rosebud, South Dakota.
Photo: Marsha MacDowell, 1996.

Honoring Veterans
Native peoples have always honored their warriors for their bravery and service to the community. Today, service in military is highly respected and veterans usually play an honored role at pow wows across the country. Among Plains Native peoples, quilts are given to veterans and returning servicemen and women at pow wows, funerals, Memorial Day, and other ceremonies. Often these quilts are red, white, and blue; sometimes they incorporate stars, an eagle and the bars and stripes of the American flag.
Photo of Veteran's quilt
Veteran's Quilt
Ollie Napesni (Sioux)
St. Francis, South Dakota
78" wide x 84" long
Courtesy of Michigan State University Museum.
Photo by Elbinger Studios, Inc.
This quilt only appears in the exhibit as an image on a text panel.
This caption belongs to a historic image on the text panel. Permission has not been granted to display it in the online version of the exhibit.
Harvey Walking Eagle's son Freddy is photograhed in front of a display of quilts at his father's funeral, ca. 1990. Freddy is holding his father's World War II Bronze Star.
Photo by Don Doll, S.J.
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