- United States
59 in x 70.75 in.
Native arts acquisition funds, 1953.131
Photograph © Denver Art Museum 2009. All Rights Reserved.
About the Artist
A woman from the Osage tribe sewed this blanket in the early 1900s for a special dance called the I-loⁿ-shka [ee-LONSH-kah]. European explorers entered the Osage territory in the early 1600s and the Osage began trading with the French for things like wool cloth and silk ribbon—materials that were used in the making of this blanket. Ribbonworkers are female and the art form is learned from female relatives. Each Osage ribbonworker creates her own patterns. To make the silk decorations, the artist used a template to trace a design on colored ribbon, then she cut and folded the ribbon to form stylized arrowhead shapes and horses. She then stitched each shape onto a second colored ribbon, which she sewed by hand onto the wool blanket. Once complete, the blanket would have been worn by an Osage woman over her shoulders or as a skirt. Today, artists continue to produce ribbonwork, but they might use sewing machines to construct the patterns. These blankets are still worn today on ceremonial occasions.
What Inspired It
Every Osage who dances the I-loⁿ-shka, both male and female, wears clothing decorated with ribbonwork. Blankets like this one are often given as gifts at the dance. When worn during the I-loⁿ-shka dance, the blanket moves and sways with the dancer, surrounding him or her with a sense of history and tradition. Symbols and use of colors may vary between clans or even families. Horses, like those on this blanket, often symbolize prosperity and may also indicate a family’s name.
I-loⁿ-shka means “playground of the eldest son.” An eldest son is chosen keeper of the drum for a year or more. The drum-keeper chooses committee members who are knowledgeable in tribal traditions to plan the dance. His family gives gifts to committee members, pays for the dance, and prepares food for participants. Dances are held outdoors and dancers circle around a drum, moving in a counterclockwise direction. In the early days, only warriors danced the I-loⁿ-shka. Today all men and boys, and some women, dance around the singers and the drum.
The horses and border are made from silk ribbons. After the French Revolution of 1789, silk had become unpopular in Europe and the French silk industry turned to America as a market for the unwanted ribbons.
The Osage acquired wool cloth through trade with Europeans. Wool came in different colors including red, black, navy, and white.
Horses symbolize prosperity and can also indicate family names. Notice the tiny yellow beads that outline the silk horses.
Quick Classroom Ideas
- The horses on this blanket are made out of ribbon. Distribute ribbon, glue, and paper and allows students to make their own ribbon animal.
- Assemble stations of a different art supplies. Have the students sit at a table and give them time to work on an artistic creation using only one kind of art supply. When the students are finished, challenge them to switch tables and use the resources found at the new table. Have them write a response to the challenges of this assignment.
- Blankets like this were often used as gifts between clans as a token of respect or friendship. Ask the students what kinds of gifts they bring to family and friends when visiting them. Why?