Monday, April 30, 2012

More Christian Iconography in The Tradition of Plains Indian Pictography

A picture of the icon as in its finished state.
Christian Iconography: The Archangel Gabriel
Plains Indian Pictography
By Dakota Wind
BISMARCK, N.D. - This past spring season I thought I'd finish a project that began maybe five or six years ago. I had applied plaster to a wood plank then pretty much forgot about it. It sat around in the basement and was occasionally moved when I went to the book shelf, when it would be briefly remembered, then forgotten about. I didn't even know what the icon was going to represent.

It started with a sketch on regular paper. It looked much the same when finished.

I stetched out a couple of concepts of the Archangel Gabriel. I had at first envisioned the angel without wings. Instead, I pictured a figure looking like the above image, only instead of wings, this angel would have clouds behind with lightning making the outline of the wings. I ended up going with wings, because without wings, no one would recognize that it was supposed to be an angel.

The drawing was applied to the plaster and a few parts were filled in.

The wings of Gabriel are often painted blue and red. I kept the edges of the wings silver, in a throwback to my original concept of lightning. Gabriel is said to have a trumpet. The Lakota people did not have trumpets, but we have flutes. I painted Gabriel holding a flute instead. The shirt is a mix of an old time war shirt, like the kind made out of elk skins, and a mix of the late nineteeth century ghost dance shirt.

The icon nears completion.The blue of the sky and wings turned out great.

I added paint to the bottom half of the image. The very top is the celestial heavens, the blue is heaven above. The angel is standing on the world, with his height reaching above the sky and into the stars. The shirt has seven stars. Ghost dance shirts were often decorated with celestial imagery to represent the heavens. In this case, the seven stars on the shirt represent the seven archangels.

I added clouds, a few other destails, and a warbonnet pattern emanating from the traditional halo. In direct sunlight, the icon sparkles and the halo warmly glows.

Here is a close up of the detail on the head, halo, and shirt.

I submitted this icon to the editorial staff of the Indigenous Theology Training Institute's First People's Theology Journal for their consideration, and in hopes the image would be chosen for publication in their forthcoming journal. It was selected. I am grateful and happy.

Visit the Indigenous Theology Training Institute's website sometime, for information about ordering a copy of their journal at:

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Sibley Island or Burnt Boat Island?

This image is taken from the hilltop at Fort Abraham Lincoln State Park looking south southeast. In the center line is Sibley Island.
Sibley Island or Burnt Boat Island?
One North Dakota Landmark, Two Names
By Dakota Wind
BISMARCK, N.D. - In the 1830s, Prinz Maximilian ascended the Missouri River with the artist Karl Bodmer. On coming up the Missouri River, they noted a burned out steamboat which had run aground on a sandbar. The steamboat as called "The Assiniboine," it was the second steamboat to travel upriver from St. Louis to Fort Union. It became grounded and overheated and burned. The sandbar grew to an island and is new part of the west bank of the Missouri River.

A different view of Sibley Island, looking west from the University of Mary, Bismarck, ND.

The island was renamed after General Sibley and his campaign against the Dakota in 1863. On July 29, 1863, Sibley engaged a force of perhaps as many as 2600 Dakota and Lakota warriors and fought them for three days in a battle larger and lasting longer than the Little Bighorn. Sibley was unable to take prisoners and could not estimate how many his men killed. The Sioux were encamped on the bluff overlooking the Missouri River and Apple Creek and held their ground until their women and children escaped. The "battle" was essentially a stalemate.

North of the Bismarck Landing is Burnt Boat Recreation and boat landing.

There is a Burnt Boat Drive in north Bismarck, ND. It was named for an incident on a sandbar island on the Missouri River north of the Bismarck Landing.

In the 1860s, miners descended the Missouri River from Fort Benton, Dakota Territory (Montana), to spend their loot somewhere downriver. The miners' keelboat was either hung up on a sandbar or they decided to rest for a bit on the sandbar. A Lakota woman was bathing her baby on the same sandbar. She and her baby were shot and killed by the miners. Lakota warriors retaliated by firing on the keelboat. The miners returned fire. On the keelboat was a small cannon mounted on a swivel and secured to the bottom of the boat. The cannon came loose and fired into the floor of the keelboat, firmly keeping the boat from going anyway. The boat caught fire and the miners were all killed. Several pounds of gold dust was lost.

The sandbar island became known as Burnt Boat Island, and later a nearby road became known as Burnt Boat Drive. For a virtual tour of Burnt Boat Landing Recreational Area visit:

Friday, April 20, 2012

Christian Iconography...But Painted in The Tradition of Plains Indian Pictography

Above is a side view of the icon I wrote.
Christian Iconography
Plains Indian Pictography
By Dakota Wind
BISMARCK, N.D. - Some years back I painted an icon of the Holy Trinity. I thought that I'd take a traditional art like American Indian pictography and attempt to "write" an icon in the tradition of eastern or Russian Christian iconography. Here's my first attempt.

I am no expert in iconography. I took a course of Christian art while I pursued my degree in Theology at the University of Mary from Sister Edith Selzer. 

Traditionally, I believe, and I hope I'm recalling this correctly, iconographers selected a cypress plank upon which to write their icon. They "wrote" the icon rather than "painted" it because many Christians couldn't read or write, but they could understand pictures and colors. 

I chose to use cedar on which to write my icon, for it is a sacred wood. Its an aromatic wood, and the tree itself grows with other cedar trees. The roots of one cedar twine around the roots of other cedar trees and in this way the trees are collectively stronger, and on the Great Plains of North America the cedar needs all the strength it can call on to withstand the winds.

I anointed the plank with linseed oil. I then applied a red cotton cloth to the side on which I was going to write. Iconographers typically use white cloth to represent the shroud of Jesus Christ. I used red cloth, for red is a sacred color and is often used in medicine ties when one prays, and to represent the blood of the Christ. 

From the angle of the above picture, one can see plaster. I had put it on rather thick. Over the past few years, the wood has warped ever so slightly which caused the plaster to crack. 

A head-on view of the icon. The good people at KAT Communications allowed me to use their studio to take these pictures.

A bald eagle flies in the bottom left hand corner, a golden eagle flies in the opposite corner. The two eagle do not fly within the circle of green, they fly above and beyond. In the Lakota tradition, eagles carry the messages or prayers of the people to the Creator above. 

The circle of green has three green rectangles in the top left corner, two rectangles and a triangle in the corner opposite. The green circle and the green shapes subtly suggest a turtle. In the Lakota tradition the turtle represents the world, grandmother earth.

The Holy Trinity stand above or beyond the visible heavens.

A closer view of the icon.

The Holy Trinity stand in front of the Creator's lodge. On the left tipi flap are seven stars arranged in the pattern of Seven Brothers, commonly known as The Big Dipper. On the right tipi flap are also seven stars, these are the Seven Sisters, more commonly known as the Pleiades. In the Lakota tradition, some say that our souls or spirits descend from the heavens from the Seven Sisters, on its descent, the spirit passes through the "spoon" of the Big Dipper, before beginning its worldly journey in a body. 

A closer view yet of the icon.

The "Black Warbonnet" pattern radiates from the heads of the Holy Trinity. The left figure wears a creation robe, the robe with the patterns of the sun, the stars, the moon, and animals which were created before people. The right figure wears a blanket of holiness and humaness, and also carries the gift of the sacred pipe and a pipe bag which features the image of a bison cow. In Lakota tradition, the White Buffalo Calf Woman brought the pipe to the people, a "covenant" if you will, that each Lakota person create a deep and personal relationship with the Creator and the world around. The figure in the center is the Christ. This center figure makes two signs. The first sign is the sign for good in the Plains Indian Sign Language - with the left hand. The second sign is the Christian sign for divinity touching humanity - two fingers are shown, the thumb and the ring and pinky fingers touch, leaving the middle and index fingers straight out.

The icon was blessed by then Roman Catholic Bishop Paul Zipfel of the Bismarck Diocese. The icon now resides in a private collection.