The Spanish Broad Sword – 1998

Original Acrylic on Linen, Framed

The early decades of the nineteenth century were a period of elaboration in the festival dress of the people of the Plains.  The Crow and their Hidatsa kinsmen were especially known for the elegance of their appearance.  Men who were successful in war displayed their accomplishments by means of military insignia and a record of their exploits painted on their clothing.  Here, a brave man wears a shirt and leggings and carries a buffalo robe, all emblazoned with pictographic evidence of deeds, recording his capture of weapons, defeat of enemies, leadership, and generosity.  He carries an antique Spanish cavalry broad sword from the colonies in the Southwest, which, like the horse and its gear, has made its way through warfare or intertribal trade to the upper Missouri country.  That it is an honorable weapon is shown by the fan of eagle feathers hung from the pommel and the four painted representations of the sword on his shirt, one of which can be seen just above the quilled blanket strip.

The paintings on the shirt, leggings, and robe of this proud warrior are examples of the work of a single, unknown artist whose distinctive style of pictography sets him apart from his contemporaries.  The shirt and leggings he wears are from the collection in the Opocno Castle in the Czech Republic, and his buffalo robe is in the National Museum of Denmark.  All three are embellished with bands of quillwork, in multi-quill plaiting and in single and double bundle quill-wrapped horsehair, bordered with beads.

Sun Dogs and Eagle Down: The Indian Paintings of Bill Holm by Steven C. Brown, with a chronology and bibliography by Lloyd J. Averill and with captions by Bill Holm; p.180