American Indian Art and Artifacts

July 23, 2000

Source: Star Tribune

On July 23, 2000, the Star Tribune published an article about an exhibit of Native American religious art that recently opened at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts. The heart of the exhibition, "Symbols of Faith and Belief," could very well be a leather box created by the "late Harding Big Bow, a Kiowa artist and Native American Church leader who initiated the exhibition and encouraged the writing of an accompanying book, Peyote Religious Art: Symbols of Faith and Belief. The box depicts a couple bowing beside a ceremonial fire whose glow arcs outward like the rising sun embracing and illuminating the earth. On a blanket between the couple are objects they would use in Native American Church ceremonies, including a fan of colorful macaw feathers, a gourd rattle and a decorated staff. A small drum and water bucket sit beside them. Two small green "buttons," representing the peyote cactus used as a sacrament in Native American Church rituals, hover overhead on radiant pink clouds." Many of the elements depicted on the box are seen throughout the exhibition, since they all are symbolic of Native American faith.

"'The [Native American] church has suffered persecution and misunderstanding and Harding saw the art as a way to provide a social and educational context for the religion without compromising the sacred and individual nature of the church,' said anthropologist Daniel C. Swan, who wrote the book and organized the exhibition for the Gilcrease Museum in Tulsa, Okla., where he is senior curator."