Monday, December 10, 2012

Concluding Thoughts

Alas, this is my final post for this blog-- at least for now! It has been such a wonderful experience getting to know the Blue Roan Horse Effigy. At first I was a bit anxious, not quite knowing what to expect, and feeling a bit lost because it is an art piece that is relatively new and hasn't been studied or written about extensively. What I came to find, however, was that beneath one layer of information there exists another. And another. And yet another. I can never truly learn all there is to learn about the Effigy because its message spreads itself over so many other areas of thought, art, and culture (and more!) that that the journey never quite ends. Which is, in my opinion, a wonderful thing. Most importantly, I would like to thank all the people who have helped turn what was originally a class assignment into a truly rewarding learning experience. This includes my class teaching fellow, who put me in touch with the Peabody Museum--who so generously offered me contacts to the co-curators of the Wiyohpiyata Exhibit. I would like to thank Castle McLaughlin and Butch Thunder Hawk, two amazing individuals who not only gave me their time but also their effort and personal attention. It was so wonderful hearing first-hand accounts of work showcased in a museum! It was my first time being able to actually speak to two curators-- and of such a culturally rich exhibit, too! I couldn't have asked for more. I regret coming to the end of this project, but it is something I will remember for a very, very long time. Though this blog is for a class, I know my audience extends beyond my personal social circle. So please-- if you are reading this (whoever you may be) and have any questions, interests, or comments whatsoever, I'd love to hear from you! This is, after all, what blogs are for. :) 

~Thank you!~

(Photographs I should have uploaded sooner)

One of the four ledger drawings on display behind the Effigy.

Horse on paper, horse of wood.

The little red circle is a bullet wound
The decorative feathers, beads, and pouch
that hang from the horse's muzzle.

Photocopy of the Half Moon Ledger

Image of Half Moon, found in the Ledger

A replica of the Half Moon Ledger (in order to keep the real one safe)

Me standing atop the Big Horn Mountains with moccasins on-- quite appropriate for the occasion.

The Blue Roan horse (appearing many times) by 'Artist B,' blown up to a larger scale for the exhibit. 

Thursday, December 6, 2012

My Interview with Butch Thunder Hawk

Butch Thunder Hawk with the Half Moon Ledger
Due to Dr. McLaughlin's most wonderful efforts, I was able to have my very own interview with Butch Thunder Hawk, the creator of the object I have come to know and love over the past several months. I prepared a series of questions to which he responded honestly and thoughtfully. It was immensely helpful, but for purposes of clarity (in accordance with the notes I jotted while on the phone) I will restate his answers below in the first person, in the most accurate way possible. In other words, the responses are not in Thunder Hawk's own words, but their meanings remain true to what was said.

Q: How did you create the Blue Roan Horse Effigy? (describe materials and the reasons for their use)
A: I used a branch of cottonwood for the effigy. It had been drying up for a couple of years, and I'd chosen it as one of two candidates for use. After I'd made the two effigies, I picked the one that is now in the Peabody because it had the right curve to it, and I liked it more. While carving it, I followed the natural curve of the wood to get the most natural form possible. Traditionally, the effigy should concentrate on the head, neck, and hoof of the horse-- as is the case in my own work. I followed the style of No Two Horns, who is from my community (Hunkpapa), and combined it with my own ideas for some variation. For the mane I used hair from a real horse, a brass tack for the eyes, and traditional paint made from minerals. The horse passed away five years ago, and I'd saved the mane and tail, as is done with other horses. The bolt that I painted on the Effigy's side gives the horse power, strength, and speed. I don't use any electrical tools for my work, in order to stay true to tradition. 

Q: Tell me about your commissions for effigies. How do you go about the process? Do your horse effigies always take the same form? How does the Blue Roan Effigy compare?
A: The people who ask for these effigies are mostly friends who had horses in their families that died. Sometimes (in preferable cases) people save the hair from the animal and send it to me to use for their very own personalized effigies. Often times people will send me photographs of the horse, or tell me about its background and story. I then try to match the appearance of the horse in my work, so that I can be as accurate as possible. The horse and its human owner are partners for life; the horse is seen with high respect and honor. 

Q: Who were the men who used the dance sticks? 
A: They were members and warriors of the tribe who practiced the horse dance-- and still do today. While doing so they would recount the story of the war horse to the council, other warriors, and the warriors' families. Though warrior societies don't exist today, veterans will carry horse effigies, also called 'horse sticks,' during ceremonial dances. However, they need to have permission to use them in dances, in order to ensure that they know to use them properly. This has always been a rule in our tradition, and though it is not as strict today as it once was, it must be respected regardless.  

Q: How/when are dance sticks used today?
A: After requesting that an effigy be made for their beloved horses, people will typically (in this day and age) place them in a special place in the house, as a memorial, to mirror the special place that the animal held in their hearts and lives. 

Q: What does a war dance entail? 
A: War dances took place in warrior society historically speaking, but today the White Horse Riders Society holds ceremonies with entire groups of dancers. They often have belts made with horse tails attached, for symbolic purposes (and to add to the effect of seeing spinning tails mid-movement). 

Q: What motivates you to carve effigies? 
A: In my college days, I would speak to people on the reservations, old-timers that had been in battle. They gave me first-hand recollections of their experiences, and showed me how to make things with my hands. Mastering the jack knife in wood carving was a skill I learned during those years. I grew up with traditional art, and was inspired by it, which is why I loved to look at museum pieces-- and to make my own war clubs, bows, and arrows. Ultimately I came to make museum pieces myself, and to study how pieces were put together. Working with the Lakota Horse Conservancy, I became exposed to the beautiful horses that are descendants of those from Sitting Bull's time. I approached the great great niece of No Two Horns, an effigy carver I look up to, and spoke to her. Despite her age, her creativity made her very skilled with her hands, and she gave me advice on how to approach my art with the eye of No Two Horns himself. In essence, I had consulted her to ask for permission to carve effigies, as her great great uncle had once carved. Over time, I've learned to format my style in accordance with that of No Two Horns. It's changed a bit, but the technique is always the same. Today I make the heads of my effigies smaller, and the bodies have gotten more detailed as I dedicate more time to creating them. At first it was hard, but I've gotten better along the way while keeping the same technique and using draw knives, files, and no electric tools. 

Q: How did you draw inspiration from the ledger drawings to create the Effigy? 
A: The Blue Roan horse is a favorite war pony within the warrior society. It is symbolic of the direction West, thunder, and lightning. The coat colors black and blue represent the West, and are associated with thunder, which gives the horse power. Thunder is powerful because it can roar and be a destructive force. At the same time, it can also be the opposite--peaceful, and healing, as it accompanies rain. That warrior and his Blue Roan that are omnipresent in the ledger drawings is one of my favorite pairs (of horse and warrior). I created the Blue Roan Effigy because I felt that horse should be honored, considering he was represented so often in the drawings. 

Q: Where did your name-- Thunder Hawk-- come from?
A: My name relates to the Thunderbird spirit, a creature that lives in the West and controls the destructive forces of nature. It controls wind, fire, and floods, but also can bring rain to give life. The Thunderbird can take life, and bring life.

~Thank you, Mr. Thunder Hawk!~ 


Thunder Hawk, Butch. Personal interview. 19    
        November. 2012.      

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Revolutions of Art

I find it necessary to take a step back and examine the larger picture of things: the relationship of the Effigy to the world. The purpose of art varies by artist, nation, and time period, but often times art is created as a form of revolution. Its purpose can be to define a social habit, ignite a change, or rise up against an injustice. In the case of the Effigy, we find a piece of a revolution-- that of the survival of the Nokota horse. 

Thunder Hawk's Effigy honors the Blue Roan that is depicted by the ledger drawings of 'Artist B' (see: "An Hour With Castle McLaughlin"), but in doing so it also honors the descendants of that horse, the Nokotas. This is mainly because it is an old art form with a contemporary twist-- Thunder Hawk complies with tradition, but also adds his own fresh perspective by adding elements of his own artistic style. The hair found on the Effigy belongs to a horse that passed away five years ago, so the piece is very much a reference to horses existing today.

A Nokota horse

By having the Effigy in the exhibit, we are reminded of the importance of connecting ourselves to the past. The fact that Thunder Hawk is honoring a horse that once was, a horse that neither he nor us has ever met, is a sign that  what is behind us on a timeline has never truly been surpassed, or at least shouldn't be. Effigies teach us this to begin with-- to never forget those who have departed-- but the Effigy, as a dance stick, brings history to life. Its potential for movement in a dance ceremony is an indication that history exists in both a past and present state. The Nokota horses that McLaughlin and Thunder Hawk are dedicating themselves to under the Nokota Horse Conservancy are in a fight (a successful one at that) for survival. The following is the description of the organization's goals, as quoted from
The Nokota® Horse Conservancy is a nonprofit organization established in 1999 to preserve the unique and historical Nokota® Horse. These wild horses of the northern plains inhabited the Little Missouri badlands, now encompassed by Theodore Roosevelt National Park, for more than a century. They were removed by the National Park Service and sold during the 1980s and 1990s. The vast majority of the remaining Nokota® horses now survive on the overburdened Kuntz Ranch. The goals of the Nokota® Horse Conservancy are to preserve these important horses by caring for them, promoting awareness of their plight, value, and use to others, and by working to establish a sanctuary where they can survive into the future. 
 The values behind the organization are, in this sense, revolutionary. The Effigy, just like the Nokota horses, is a reminder of this "plight, value, and use to others" that we find not only in the creatures themselves but also in history-- or more specifically, Native American history.  

On that note, the Wiyohpiyata: Lakota Images of the Contested West exhibit, in which the Effigy is found, is revolutionary due to the message it sends. It brings to light the importance of reviving the Native American past, something which often tends to be swept under the rug, so to speak. Sure, most American studies today learn about the culture at some point during their schooling years, but often times that's as far as exposure goes. Spending time in the exhibit at the Peabody (both by myself and with Dr. McLaughlin) has taught me more than I feel I could have ever learned from a textbook. It's important to experience culture all around you-- to see it, touch it, smell it, hear it, etc. If it envelopes you, you begin to feel history come alive. The Effigy, particularly in the context of the exhibit, achieves just that. It is revolutionary but also celebratory, and is a mode of expression through which we find not only stories of the past, but also stories of the present. 

Sources: The Nokota Horse Conservancy, n.d. Web. Nov. 2012. <>.

An Hour With Castle McLaughlin

Castle McLaughlin, co-curator of exhibit (alongside Thunder Hawk)
Several weeks ago I visited the Peabody Museum to inspect the Effigy, as I had countless times before. But what made this visit so special was the fact that I was going to meet the curator of the Wiyohpiyata Exhibit herself, Castle McLaughlin. When I arrived, she greeted me with a warm smile and two small booklets of information on the exhibit that stood before us. For the next hour or so, we walked our way around, often stopping to observe the Effigy, as she spoke and I took notes. The following information is what I gathered from our encounter, which was not only an eye-opening delight but also an exchange that further heightened and sharpened my interest in the object at hand, and star of the show: the Blue Roan Horse Effigy.   
  • Six artists contributed to the Half Moon Ledger drawings.
  • One of those artists McLaughlin and Thunder Hawk like to refer to as "Artist B." He is responsible for more drawings than the other five artists-- a total of 22 out of the 77-- and his art is recognizable in the depiction of himself the same Blue Roan horse. The horse is distinguishable from the rest because of its prominently blue body and black limbs and head, as shown below:
  • The blue color is a representation not only of the direction West, but also of the "constellation of forces that govern warfare."
  • The blue and black horse by Artist B (shown above) is actually a Blue Roan, but not all the horses that are blue in the ledger are Blue Roans; in some cases their color is simply symbolic of the direction West, and in actuality they were most likely grey, not blue.
  • In some cases, green was substituted for blue (when coloring materials ran out). [photograph to be uploaded soon] 
  • In ledger drawing #98, one of the four shown directly behind the Effigy (see below photograph, the drawing on the bottom right), the Artist B horse is being shot down. In fact, all four of those drawings depict the same horse (as they all resemble the one above), and tell its story in chronological order.

  •  The Lakota Sioux warriors (in warrior societies) would dance with the dance sticks and talk about what the horses had done when alive-- their successes, strengths, personal stories and the like. 
  • The warriors would honor their horses (when alive) by adorning them with feathers, or tying cloth around their necks. This explains the feathers and cloth that we see around the Effigy (see above). 
  • The carvers of these dance sticks would have ownership of practice, meaning that certain men were entitled to carving them. It couldn't be done by just anybody.
  • Joseph No Two Horns was a member of the Hunkpapa group, one of the seven council fires of the Lakota Sioux tribe. He is also a role model for Thunder Hawk because of his plethora of horse sticks, among other artwork, all collected at the State Historical Society of North Dakota. Thunder Hawk is also Hunkpapa, and was an apprentice in the art of effigy carving. His grandparents were artists, but he also went to college, so his artistic background consists of both an educational and traditional, family element. Thunder Hawk had gone to No Two Horns' descendants to ask for permission to continue the horse carving tradition, and upon receiving it he began carving in a style that was influenced by No Two Horns (basically in No Two Horns' style combined with his own).
  • The last of the Blue Roan ancestors of the Nokota horses (descendants of the Blue Roan horses, horses of the Lakota warriors) were killed or taken at Fort Buford, North Dakota in 1881 by the U.S. Army in an effort to discourage Native American mobility. This was part of a surrender by Sitting Bull, a Hunkpapa Lakota himself, despite a victory over Lt. Custer at the Little Big Horn. The horses were then sold to post traders, and over the years disappeared-- though leaving behind descendants that people like McLaughlin have dedicated their lives to preserving through the Nokota Horse Conservancy. One of the reasons the horse breed survived is a man by the name of Marquis de Mores. He saw value in the horses taken at Fort Buford and, being the aristocrat and rancher that he was, bought a grand total of 250 horses from the traders. Around 1887 De Mores returned to his native France, and left the horses behind--alongside other wild horses-- on land that would later become part of the Theodore Roosevelt National Park grounds. There, they interbred, resulting in the lineage leading to the Nokota horses of today.    
  • Butch Thunder Hawk is on the Nokota Horse Conservancy's Board of Directors.
  • Warriors (from 6-8 different warrior societies) would draw their stories of their horses on teepee liners. There is one on display in the exhibit. 
  • Those same men had dance sticks they would use with different dances to recount their experiences (with their war horses on the battlefield) to their families, friends, and fellow warriors around a fire. 
  • Today, though war societies don't exist anymore, the Sioux still honor and value their veterans, who are just as noble as the warriors of the past.
  • Butch Thunder Hawk is considered to be one of the best and most traditional effigy carvers and artists of his time, and he takes commissions for making effigies for contemporary horse deaths. The materials and pigments he uses are traditional.
  • In Thomas Jefferson's Monticello, there is a room called the Indian Hall, in which Butch Thunder Hawk's work is on display. It is a collaboration between himself and his own students, in an effort to reconstruct a modern version of fresh, contemporary Native American art. In that room there is a shield on which hangs the tail of a horse named "Target," whom the government had wanted to slaughter (alongside other horses in the Theodore Roosevelt National Park). The name "Target" was meant to be ironic, and as a reminder to the government that the stallion would survive, despite efforts to have the opposite occur. Theodore Roosevelt had ranched on the open range (in North Dakota), and spent his time writing about the wild horses that so fascinated him. When the park itself was created in the 1950s, some of the wild herds were accidentally confined within park borders-- which created problems for the National Park Service, which rules that it is in no way responsible for the protection of the horses because they are not 'historical objects.' 
  • Dakota, Lakota, and Nakota are three terms that essentially describe the same thing. They are three dialects of the Sioux people, but mark no political difference whatsoever. All three groups are part of the same culture overall. The term for the horses that survive today, the descendants of the Blue Roans, is Nokota. This term was coined as a combination of the words "North" and "Dakota," because the animal was the state horse of North Dakota in 1993. 
After our time together, Dr. McLaughlin provided me with Butch Thunder Hawk's contact information, so that I could have an actual phone interview with the artist of my focus of study. My jaw fell to the floor in response to this proposal, and thoughts of what I would even begin to ask Thunder Hawk bounced around in my mind. More on that to come...  

Sources (fact checking, images) The Nokota Horse Conservancy, n.d. Web. Nov. 2012. <>.

 Walsh, Colleen. "They save Horses, Don't They?" Harvard Gazette. The President and Fellows of Harvard College, 16 Sept. 2010. Web. Nov. 2012. <’t-they/>.         

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Abstract / Paper Proposal

The time has come for me to think expansively about what I have learned thus far regarding the Blue Roan Horse Effigy, and to answer the question, So what? Why does any of this information matter? 
Well, it certainly does, and I'm here to prove it! 

(General Guiding) Question: Why is the connection between the ledger drawings and the horse effigy important? 

Answer: Because it reminds us that Native American history is alive and relevant to the present. 

I am choosing to write a paper exploring the above question because I find that the Effigy does not exist on its own. It comes to life when the relationship it has with the ledger drawings (that are in fact its artist's inspiration and also physically presented with the effigy) is drawn out. The Peabody exhibit itself is successful in the sense that it presents a series of historical artifacts with several contemporary art pieces that, quite frankly, are almost indistinguishable because of their common artistic purpose. The parallels drawn between the Ledger and the Effigy are an example of this commonality, and are something we should play close attention to. The answer to my guiding question, that history is alive and present and therefore relevant to us viewers, is brought on by the following lineage of relationships:
In other words, the two middle elements--the Half Moon Ledger and the Blue Roan Horse Effigy--form the bridge between the horses of the Lakota Sioux warriors and the Nokota horses, which are descendants of those horses and whose lives are being preserved against government efforts. The Nokota themselves are living and breathing history, but the Effigy and Ledger piece together the horses' historical background and significance. The two individuals (and friends) who collaborated for the exhibit, artist Butch Thunder Hawk and curator Castle McLaughlin, can personally relate to the two art pieces. Thunder Hawk specializes in carving Native American effigies, having mastered the art form through a family of traditional artists. He is of the Hunkpapa Native American group, one of the seven branches of the Lakota Sioux tribe, so his perspective is cultural and fresh. McLaughlin is one of the reasons there are any Nokota alive to begin with, as she helped create the Nokota Horse Conservancy, a nonprofit group that dedicates itself to preserving the horse breed. 

When the ledger drawings were unearthed after having collected dust in Harvard's Houghton Library for at least 70 years, Thunder Hawk and McLaughlin were inspired to respond with an exhibit that would place the ledger in a spotlight (also quite literally) while surrounded with other artifacts and objects that would allow the viewer to understand its essence more fully. The Effigy is one of those objects, and deserves a great deal of attention because it has personal value (for Thunder Hawk and McLaughlin), and is historical while also contemporary. Perhaps one of its most important qualities is its potential for movement and interactivity; the effigy is also a dance stick, which means that its use in present day would bring history to life. Similarly to the ledger, it would emphasize the dedication, love, respect, and unity between man and horse. Ultimately, both the ledger drawings and Effigy are proof of the "supernatural bond between creature and human creation [that] empowered the Lakota warriors during battle"(Kumar and Ryan, 2010). It's also important to point out the direct relationship between the Effigy and the drawings; the former is meant to honor a horse that is represented over 15 times in the latter. 

Kumar, Gautam S., and Julia L. Ryan. "Enlivening Exhibits of Native American Art at the Peabody." The Harvard Crimson. Harvard Crimson, Inc., 9 Mar. 2010. Web. Nov. 2012. <>.

Walsh, Colleen. "They save Horses, Don't They?" Harvard Gazette. The President and Fellows of Harvard College, 16 Sept. 2010. Web. Nov. 2012. <’t-they/>.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Object Label

Considering the information I have gathered thus far on the Horse Effigy, I am faced with a hypothetical question: Suppose I were its curator, what label would I place by the object, and how would I exhibit it? 
The Blue Roan Horse Effigy shown here is a placeholder for a courageous, loyal, and strong horse that once lived amongst the Lakota Sioux warriors of the late 1800s. Butch Thunder Hawk, the artist, was inspired by a series of ledger drawings, bound together in a book titled The Half Moon Ledger, that were created by at least five different individuals. In response to such a beautiful and recently rediscovered historic gem, Thunder Hawk was inspired to react to the art by honoring its beloved subject. The detail with which it was created is personal and spiritual in meaning; its blue/black color and the lightning bolt that runs along its side represent the direction West, which was considered sacred, while features such as the red holes scattered across the body are literal representations of where the horse being honored was shot. The Horse Effigy also had a physical purpose-- it was used as a dance stick in war society ceremonies, in which the owner of the horse would dance with the effigy in hand and recount stories of its successes on the battlefield and of his own relationship with the deceased yet highly respected animal.
Modes of exhibition:

1. Presenting an entire collection of horse effigies together, but each one paired with a biography, photograph, and achievements of the horse that it is honoring. I envision the effigies placed in a large circle, so that each has its own share of space (to allow for direct attention of the viewer). The exhibit room is very dark, and a spotlight shines on each of the horse effigies separately, giving the feeling of performers on a stage. Everything in the room is quiet, except for the sounds of nature (specifically what one would hear in the Great Plains, home to the horses), which are quietly played through speakers which are not seen.    

2. It would be amazing to have an entire exhibit dedicated to just one horse, and ultimately one effigy-- the one that is the center of our focus (and this blog). The exhibit would not be a room, but rather a tunnel that has projections of moving images of the horse being honored, as well as other images that have personal value (reenactments of its death, for instance? Though that may be a tad cliche'...) The viewer would hear the owner's voice surround him/her, to listen to the story of the horse that once was. At the very end of the tunnel, after the "storytelling tunnel" of sorts, the viewers would reach the horse effigy, and understand it more, having heard about (and engulfed in!) its past. 

3. Some sort of an interactive exhibit could be interesting, if it wasn't overdone. The one thing I often regretted at the Peabody Museum was my inability to touch the effigy, to hold it and observe its weight, the sensation of its texture under my skin, etc. I've always particularly wanted to touch the hair on the object. It seems like such an intimate feature. The exhibit could also feature visiting effigy artists as guest speakers and instructors, who maybe could come teach the public on the creation of their beautiful creations! Maybe having some sort of mini effigy workshop (make your own effigy?) would interest people.