“Why are they planting sticks in the ground..?” asked someone while viewing the large painting on the wall, it was more than 12 feet tall and was drawing a lot of attention.
I was visiting the Phoenix Art Museum after work on a Wednesday, and was thrilled to note that the museum was open until 9pm. Having browsed through the European art collection, I had now ventured into the Western American art section. So what is so unique about Western American art? Simply put American art created in the West has more emphasis on local subjects such as Grand Canyon and Yellowstone, but the collections here include all American styles.
Many visitors would be pleasantly surprised with the variety of arts and culture in Phoenix, America’s newest major city with population growing from 250,000 in the early 1950s to over 4 million recently. With the growth in population the Art Museum has also grown in size as well as in the variety of collections.
“Oh look at the soft morning light on the Crow Indian’s clothes…!” remarked another person standing in front of me.
It was a painting by Howard Terpning called “Offerings to the Little People” and it had won the gold medal for painting at an exhibition almost 20 years ago. The painting shows Crow Indian Tobacco Society members planting tobacco. It is one of the major ceremonies of the tribe.
The Crow Indians believe that tobacco was the first plant to grow on earth and that growing it is important for the welfare of the tribe and apparently smoking it helps carry their prayers to God. A small plot of land near a stream is prepared for the tobacco crop and then sheltered with feathers and ribbons. Once the seeds are planted, sticks with attached bundles are inserted into the ground. The bundles contain berries, herbs, tiny moccasins and miniature articles of clothing; these are meant as offerings to the “little people” who the Crow Indians believe to live in the ground.
The little people would help with the success of the crop!
Another Crow Indian ceremony is the Sun Dance where they show their devotion to God by fasting and by the torture of constant dancing. This ceremony involves self-torture to appease their God. In the old days, holes were punctured into the pectoral muscles of dancers; ropes run through these holes and attached to a pole.
The dancer would lean backwards from the pole in an act of self-torture...
This part of the ceremony has now been banned!
The Crow Indians like all Native Indians believe in spirits.
They believe that above the physical world lies another larger world of spirits. One of their oldest beliefs has been that they are deeply connected to nature and that they belong to the land and not vice versa. This is the reason why they resist any kind of relocation. A woman who was asked to move just 10 miles from her place of birth would not agree to move.
Apparently the reason she gave was “The wind does not know my name in the new place!”.