Exhibit features rare Kiowa ledger art

Staff reports
5/30/09

NORMAN, Okla. – The fully restored pages of a rare collection of Kiowa calendar art will be on view at the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History in Norman through Aug. 23. “One Hundred Summers: A Kiowa Calendar Record” features hand-drawn illustrations by renowned Kiowa artist and calendar-keeper Silver Horn representing 100 years of Kiowa tribal history.

The traditional Kiowa calendar uses pictorial images to represent events in the tribe’s history. Each year is represented by two images – one for the summer and one for the winter. The events depicted are agreed upon by tribal elders and drawn and maintained by designated tribal calendar-keepers. The calendar records were originally kept on hides or cloth, but eventually were copied into ledgers.

Silver Horn was born in 1860 (“The Summer That Bird Appearing was Killed,” according to his calendar). Both his father and older brother were also calendar-keepers for the tribe. He was a prolific artist and created hundreds of drawings representing Kiowa history and tradition before his death in 1940.

Only one other full Silver Horn calendar is known to exist today. It was created by Silver Horn in 1904 specifically for the archives of the Smithsonian Institution and covers the period from 1828 through 1904. The SNOMNH Silver Horn calendar also begins in 1828, four years earlier than Kiowa calendars by other artists, and continues through the winter of 1928-29. It includes more than 200 drawings on 80 pages.

Candace Greene, a Smithsonian scholar and expert on Silver Horn’s work, prepared explications of each image for the exhibition. Greene is also the author of a new book about the calendar. “One Hundred Summers: A Kiowa Calendar Record,” published by the University of Nebraska Press.

“Entries in this calendar are probably the last drawings that Silver Horn made,” Greene said. “Before this book was found, I thought he had quit producing in the 19-teens because he was going blind. But, obviously, he was very committed to continuing this work. There are a few other calendars that continue into the early 1900s, but this one, with entries well into the 20th century, offers a unique perspective on that period of history.”

The calendar on view in this exhibition was donated to the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History in 2001 from the estate of Nelia Mae Roberts, who ran an Indian trading post in Anadarko. The museum subsequently received a Save America’s Treasures Grant that provided for the conservation and restoration of the calendar’s fragile pages by a professional paper conservator. The process took more than a year, but the restored pages are now available to be viewed for the first time by museum visitors.

The Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History is located on the University of Oklahoma Norman campus. Hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday, and 1 to 5 p.m. Sunday. A family of four can visit for under $20. Additional information is available by calling (405) 325-4712.

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