Cradleboard. Kiowa or Comanche people, about 1850-1870. Animal hide, textile, glass beads, tin. Museum purchase with funds provided by the 2004 Museum Dinner and Ball and general acquisition funds, 2005.103.
Cradleboard; Native American, Kiowa or Comanche people
The Kiowa and Comanche peoples once inhabited the plains and hills of central North America. Rather than establishing permanent settlements for farming, these nomads followed herds of buffalo, an animal that provided both food and raw materials for everyday objects. In the 18th and 19th centuries, the acquisition of horses allowed them to travel faster and to transport goods more easily.
Kiowa and Comanche artists decorated objects that were both functional and beautiful, like this cradleboard. To incorporate children into society as early as possible, mothers used them to carry infants on their backs or to keep children upright when at rest. The Kiowa and Comanche often passed down cradleboards through generations, linking both familial and cultural identity.
As white settlers moved west seeking land and resources, the American government forced Native Americans to leave their ancestral homelands and to move onto reservations. In the 1860s, the government relocated the Kiowa and Comanche peoples to a small reservation in modern-day Oklahoma.
Objects like this cradleboard show how a radical change in lifestyle can affect a population. Although the Kiowa and Comanche used cradleboards for centuries, craftspeople did not usually decorate them elaborately. Settled life on the reservation differed greatly from hunter-gatherer traditions. Trade gave artists access to materials not available before–cloth, glass beads, and finished lumber–that became essential tools allowing them to work in new ways. Artists used the increased time and materials to turn everyday objects into works of art.
The reservation period only lasted for about 25 to 30 years, after which the creation of elaborately beaded objects became obsolete. Contemporary Kiowa and Comanche artists, however, are reviving artistic traditions like beaded cradleboards.
As war and other disasters displace many people around the world from their homelands, how do you think their cultures change? If you were forced out of the country or region where you grew up, do you think you would lose aspects of your identity? If so, how would that affect your sense of character?
Take a look at these works at the BMA and beyond, and join the conversation below!