Winter Counts on Buffalo Hide
by Sheldon Raymore
In the Lakota-Sioux language the words "Waniyetu Wowapi" translate to "Winter Count." Winter Count images marked a notable occurrence amongst the Sioux people as a timeline of significant year in events.
These collections of Winter Count catalogues (traditionally etched, painted, and/or drawn on deer, elk, antelope or buffalo hides later muslin fabric) are a pictorial accounting of the past years happenings. Ultimately serving as a traditional "history book." With - Tradition As Prevention - as a core value of the Tipi Project, it is this traditional way of preserving information for generations to come that is being revised and reclaimed, as we continue to battle the HIV/AIDS epidemic in native communities.
Much of the artwork I create allows me to reconnect with the action steps my ancestors used in making the ancient etching and carving of winter counts. The hand drawn technique of creating a pattern for the image, painting, cutting of patterns, stretching of leather hide, erection of tipi's, and storytelling while working return me to a world of the grandmothers and grandfathers. I use a sense of smell to invoke the ancestral connection especially when painting on traditional brain tanned hides or smoked hides to create a primitive ambiance. At the same time creating these pictorial images of modern day events with the soundscapes of cars, planes, boats, skyscrapers, and people of the urban reality in the background, allows participants to revive a tradition their ancestors might have done. I use colors from the regional location that are earth based. Colors that can organically be made using traditional dying techniques like green for grass, earth iron mud for brown, berries for reds, and ash for black. As a second generation tipi maker there's a connection that transcends time and space. It's a connection to my father who taught me, and a connection to my elder's who've kept the traditions of storytelling.