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Star Quilts
The star is one of the most common design motifs used by Plains tribal quilters. It is sometimes called the Morning Star design, after the star which appears in the east in early April and represents the direction from which spirits of the dead return to earth, thus symbolizing the link between the living and the dead.

In quilts, the Star pattern is made by sewing many diamond-shaped pieces together. Using alternating or contrasting colors and arranging the diamonds in different patterns, quilters creatively achieve a wide range of innovative varitations on this basic design.

Photo of Grand Entry Lone Star quilt
Grand Entry Lone Star Quilt
1995
Shirley Grady (Mandan/Hidatsa/Sioux/Crow)
New Town, North Dakota
80" wide x 93" long
Collection 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 innovative version of the Star quilt incorporates appliqued feathers in the corners and a border of pieced Star tips. The quilting includes, feathers, dancers, and a detailed rendition of a pow wow "grand entry". Grady has won many awards for her work.

Star Quilt
These are notes to lightning in my bedroom.
A star forged from linen thread and patches.
Purple, yellow, red like diamond suckers, children

of the star gleam on sweaty nights.
The quilt unfolds
against sheets, moving warm clous of Chinook.
It covers my cuts, my red birch clusters under pine.

Under it your mouth begins a legend,
and wide as the plain, I hope Wisconsin marshes
promise your caress. The candle locks

us in forest smells, your cheek tattered
by shadow. Sweetened by wings, my mothlike heart
flies nightly among geraniums.

We know of land that looks lonely,
but isn't, of beef with hides of velveteen,
of sorrow, an eddy in blood.

Star quilt, sewn from dawn light by fingers
of flint, take away those touches
meant for noisier skins,

anoint us with grass and twilight air,
so we may embrace, two bitter roots
pushing back into the dust.


by Roberta Hill Whiteman (Oneida)

(NOTE: Originally appeared in Joseph Bruhae, ed. New Voices from the Longhouse: An Anthology of Contemporary Iroquoise Writing. The Greenfield Review Press, 1989).

   
Photo of Thunderbird Star quilt Thunderbird Star
c.1991
Rita Corbiere (Ojibway)
Manitoulin Island, Ontario, Canada
63" x 72"
Collection of Michigan State University Museum, Accession #7251
Photo by Elbinger Studios, Inc.

The Thunderbird is an important figure in Woodlands Indian cosmology. Rita also used the traditional Native colors of red, yellow, black, and white, representing the four races of man, the stages of life, the elements, and the directions of north, south, east, and west.

   
Photo of Bright Star quilt Bright Star Quilt
1996
Paula White (Chippewa)
Bena, Minnesota
79" x 93"
Collection of MSUM, acc# 1996:97.1
Photo: Elbinger Studios, Inc.

Two bands of rainbow colored fabrics at top and bottom frame a Star of matching colors. Unlike many quilters who shy away from using black, White often employes this color as a symbol of grieving and healing. She also often incorporates symbols of the Native American church her quilts, especially eagle feathers and arrows.

 
Quilts and Lakota Baby Naming Ceremony
When you give a Star quilt away, you are putting a star before the Creator on behalf of the people who are honored. A prayer is always said so the child will have a long life. Children are recognized by the Creator. Some will take their given Lakota name to the grave, and others will pass their name on to their grandchildren.
--James Clairmont (Sioux), 1996

Giving away quilts and other gifts in ceremonies called giveaways holds significant meaning in Native culture. Generally surpervised by a female member of a clan or family, a giveaway represents the sharing of material wealth with others in honor of a loved family member. At the baby naming ceremonies within the Lakota and other Sioux communities, quilts are often among the gifts given away.

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.
Marley Brackett, the son of Danyelle Means and Geoffrey Brackett, was given his name, Walks With the Wind (Ta Tuye Yuha Mani). In a naming ceremony at the Lake Andes Pow Wow in South Dakota in 1996. The gifts that Danyelle's family presented to honored guests included many quilts.

Geoffrey Brackett holds his son Marley, as he stands by his wife, Danyelle Means, and her great-aunt Faith Traversie while the spiritual leader explains the naming ceremony.
Photo by Katherine Fogden.

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.
During a Fourth of July celebration, Rebecca Horned Antelope (Sioux) was photographed with a display of quilts made for a giveaway held in her name on the Rosebud Reservation, South Dakota.
Photo courtesy of Buechel Memorial Museum.

 
Hopi Baby Naming
Quilts play a part in some of the beautiful Hopi ceremonies, most notably the Baby Naming Ceremony. After the grandmother's blessing, family and friends are invited to offer a blessing and give a name to the baby. A gift of a quilt accompanies the offered name, and sometimes the baby almost disappears under a mountain of quilts if many family and friends participate in this warm and endearing celebration.

In earlier times the child's father or godfather wove a special blanket for the child who received only one wrapping. Older women recall that as quilting became more prevalent in the Hopi villages, a quilt was substituted for the blanket; by the early 1900s, a gift of a quilt had replaced the handwoven blanket. By the 1930s, accounts of the baby naming ceremony show that multiple gifts of quilts had become common practice. Today, with the great popularity of quilting, a baby is often given eight or ten clan names and quilts, depending on how many relatives and friends take part in the naming ritual.

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.
1923 photo of Walpi village on First Mesa. Walp was originally settled about 1700A.D.
Photo: Hattie Cosgrove, courtesy of C. Burton Cosgrove, Jr.

Photo of Hopi Corn quilt
Hopi Corn Quilt, 1996
Marlene Sekaquaptewa (Hopi)
Hotevilla, Third Mesa, Arizona
59" wide x 78 1/2" long
Collection of Michigan State University Museum.
Photo by Elbinger Studios, Inc.
This quilt only appears in the exhibit as an image on a text panel.

Corn has played an important role in Hopi life and images of corn often appear in many Hopi arts. Marlene Sekaquaptewa used corn as the quilting pattern in this Irish Chain quilt. Cornmeal and cobs of corn are used in Hopi baby naming ceremonies in traditional ways to ensure a long life and strength for the baby.

Photo of Butterfly Maiden quilt
Butterfly Maiden Quilt
1996
Karen Tootsie (Hopi)
35 1/2" wide x 50 1/2" long
Collection 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 baby quilt carried images of the "butterfly maiden," a traditional symbol used in Hopi communities.

   
Photo of Nine Patch quilt Nine Patch Quilt
1996
Pearl Nuvangyaoma (Hopi)
Second Mesa, Arizona
23.23" x 39"
Collection of MSUM, acc# 1996:149.4
Photo by Elbinger Studios, Inc.

The White Cross women, affiliated with the American Baptist Church, have long been responsible for sending blankets, quilts, and pre-cut quilt squares, known as White Cross squares to natives on reservations. Some Hopi quilters, like Nuvangyaoma, continue to receive bundles of these postcard-sized fabric pieces that they use to fashion quilts.

 
AIDS Memorial Quilt/Takini High School
Around the world, as part of the NAMES Project, individuals are making textile panels in loving memory of friends and family members who have died of AIDS. Decorated with symbols, words, pictures, and the name of the person who died, each panel is added to an enormous AIDS Memorial Quilt in San Fransisco

In early 1995, at Takini High School on the Cheyenne River Reservation in central South Dakota, students and community members joined in a week-long project, sponsored in part by the South Dakota Department of Education and Cultural Affairs, to raise awareness of AIDS and to make a panel in memory of Chip Hartfield, a tribal member who died of the disease.

As part of the activities, members of Hartfield's family were presented with Star quilts and the quilt was carried by horseback to and from the Wounded Knee memorial. In October 1996 Takini students took the panel to Washington D.C., where it was displayed along with more than 45,000 other panels on the National Mall.

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.
NAMES Quilt Project Panel for Chip Harfield, 1005
Students at Takini High School (Sioux)
Cheyenne River Reservation, South Datoka
74" wide x 43" high
Collection of Takini High School.
Photo by Elbinger Studios, Inc.

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.
The NAMES panel for Chip Hartfield was carried by members of the Cheyenne River Reservation by horseback to Wounded Knee as part of the honoring ceremony for Heartfield.
Photo: Courtesy of Laurie Jensen-Wunder.

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.
In front of a Star quilt hung on the gymnasium wall a NAMES quilt panel is shown along with a quilt draped over a statue that was later unveiled. A large banner was signed by many community members.
Photo Courtesy of Laurie Jensen-Wunder.

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.
Members of Takini High School on the Cheyenne River Reservation complete the NAMES panel for Chip Hartfield.
Photo Courtesy of Laurie Jensen-Wunder.

Photo of NAMES quilt project in Washington, DC
Hartfield's panel is added to the NAMES project quilt in Washington D.C. in 1996.
Photo by Wendy Mendoza, courtesy of Smithsonian Institution, National Museum of the American Indian

 
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