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Quillwork - Lakota style

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Self-taught artist featured at the Smithsonian

CUSTER, S.D. - Many forms of American Indian artwork have been featured by
the Smithsonian and special honors have gone to the artists. Now that the
National Museum of the American Indian is open, the public will be able to
enjoy the work of those artists who contributed.

Dorothy Brave Eagle, Oglala Lakota artist, is one of the most noted and
award winning quill-work artists.

Most notable is her horse mask design, one of which is in the Smithsonian.
Brave Eagle recently won first place awards with a horse mask and a woman's
saddle design at the Gift from Mother Earth art show at Crazy Horse
Memorial in South Dakota.

"As a little girl I would sit outside and make doll clothes. Nobody would
help me, I figured it out myself. I am self taught," Brave Eagle said. Her
father raised cattle, and her mother died when she was 4 years old.

Brave Eagle spent her school years in boarding schools and went home in the
summer. "My childhood was OK, I didn't know any better. I don't like to
talk about it, I got past it. If you let it bother you, you can't get over

Today she makes research an important part of what she creates. Brave Eagle
researches, listens and studies other artists and traditional art works in
museums and then creates her own methods to accomplish her own designs
based on Lakota traditions. She said she received some criticism from the
elders who claimed she does not use the traditional methods to create her

Because she is an expert in quillwork, the Smithsonian asked her to conduct
workshops on the craft. She teaches what she has learned on her own. She
had no grandmother to teach her so she had to ask a lot of questions. She
knew she had a gift to create. She made her own clothes and entered them in
style shows. "When I created things I knew I had the skill.

"My dad said the only way to get those outfits was to make them myself.

She said she is humble, like the Lakota. "The craft and art belongs to the
people. I don't want to make myself stand out. The culture is shared. I
have been given a gift to create."

As a prime example of her work, she created an elk-bone woman's saddle. She
studied a similar saddles in museums and created the saddle frame and
stirrups entirely with elk antlers and bone. This design shows her
propensity to be a little different and take a risk.

"I have never found a woman's saddle with decorations. A woman would never
decorate her own saddle. Relatives would do it for her. She would have
spent more time decorating her husband's saddle."

Brave Eagle is asked to analyze items at museums to determine the tribe of
origin and the style of artwork on the pieces. "I admire other people's
artwork. It's inspiring to learn from each other."

Her elk-bone saddle took four sets of antlers and four months to make, and
it's not completed yet. She made a tiny saddle that could fit a dog, just
to get an idea how it would work. Last year she made a cradleboard and many
other items. She said she likes to stay as close to tradition as possible
in not only what she creates, but in the design.

Brave Eagle has a master's degree in Education Counseling. She worked for
the federal government after she received a master's degree in Government.
Brave Eagle said that she will some day return to Washington, D.C. to visit
the NMAI as will many other artists from across the nation.