Skip to main content

Lakota artist at the Smithsonian

  • Author:
  • Updated:

CUSTER, S.D. - Lula Red Cloud, great-great granddaughter of Chief Red Cloud
the revered Oglala warrior, had a desire to submit a star quilt to a show
at the Smithsonian, and while some unforeseen circumstances got in the way,
the outcome was good.

Now that the National Museum of the American Indian has been dedicated as
an offspring of the Smithsonian, it takes on new meaning for the many
artists who have had the opportunity to have their work displayed there.

From quillwork to quilts, horse-hair braiding, beadwork and stonework, Red
Cloud has excelled - especially with quilts. She and her husband sell
handmade Lakota crafts at Crazy Horse Mountain in South Dakota.

Red Cloud grew up in the Red Cloud Community on the Pine Ridge Reservation.
Her parents taught her to bead, work with stone and to quilt. Her father,
she said, had a tool that drilled holes in stones for her; and she still
has the tool her father gave her when she was 16 to carve stone into
figures for necklaces.

"I didn't know the name of the stone I used. But now I know it was white
alabaster, and I still use it today."

While at college, and for many years after, Red Cloud did not quilt or work
with any craft items seriously. She started again in 1986 when she found
she could make a quilt alone and that they brought a good price.

While Red Cloud and her husband lived in Salt Lake City she had to make a
quilt as a giveaway at an honoring ceremony for her husband. "I had never
made a quilt solo before. I know how, I thought, so I went to the cloth
store and bought $200 worth of material of different colors; enough to make
20 quilts."

Organizers of an art show in Salt Lake City asked her to contribute some
work. She said she had made three quilts, just for special occasions and
they were not for sale, under any circumstances. But the art show
organizers told her to put a value on them for the show - so she put $750,
$850 and $950 on them. A visitor at the art show wanted the expensive one
so much Red Cloud was offered $1,150 for it, but the answer was still "not
for sale."

"That was an eye opener to do star quilts. I found out you could sell star
quilts for a high price."

Red Cloud always wanted to enter a show at the Smithsonian and told friends
that if there was ever a show, she would enter. The International Quilt
Show drew her attention first. She was the only American Indian out of 600

But still the Smithsonian loomed large in her dreams.

To get ready for the event Red Cloud created what she called a prized star
quilt, which she put in storage.

In the interim, a quilt show at Michigan State University hosted 20
American Indian quilters and Red Cloud was invited. She worked hard on a
quilt, but suffered a setback with arthritis. So she gave up her prized
star quilt, the one ready for the Smithsonian, and entered it at the
Michigan art show.

The next year the Smithsonian announced a quilt show, but didn't have
enough money in the budget to purchase the needed quilts, so a deal was
struck with Michigan State University and Red Cloud's prized star quilt was
chosen. The quilt also ended up in a traveling exhibit for three years.

As an added bonus for Red Cloud, she was chosen by the Smithsonian out of
the 40 people who contributed quilts, to be the featured speaker at the
quilt show. She still explains the cultural value and spiritual reasoning
behind the details of the star quilt to many local audiences.

In order to have a quilt to use as an example, she finished the quilt she
had started for the Michigan quilt show. "I use it as a backdrop."

The photo of her quilt appears in the "To Honor and Comfort" publication
created by the Smithsonian.

Today Red Cloud with husband, Harry Burke make items to sell to the public.
Red Cloud uses the winter months to make quilts and moccasins and other

She spends days at her table selling the items she makes at home in the
evenings. Her hands are crippled with arthritis, but she uses them with
dexterity while creating her crafts. She said she used to do beadwork while
attending to her booth, but because of the need to concentrate it is
difficult. She said she would have to redo much of the work because the
patterns were not correct. So now she does the intricate work at home where
it is quiet.

When the NMAI opens, Red Cloud will not be there, but she awaits the call
to send another quilt. Maybe there is a letter from the Smithsonian at
home. Red Cloud said she hasn't opened much mail all summer.

Whenever the next Smithsonian quilt show is announced, Red Cloud hopes to
be there.