Professor of Anthropology Jeffrey D. Anderson’s new book, “Arapaho Women’s Quillwork: Motion Life, and Creativity,” will be published by the University of Oklahoma Press later this month.
More than 100 years ago, anthropologists and other researchers collected and studied hundreds of examples of quillwork once created by Arapaho women. Since that time, however, other types of Plains Indian art, such as beadwork and male art forms, have received greater attention.
In “Arapaho Women’s Quillwork: Motion Life, and Creativity,” Anderson highlights the female art form within the realms of both art history and anthropology. Illustrated with more than 50 color and black-and-white images, the book is the first comprehensive examination of quillwork within Arapaho ritualized traditions.
Until the early 20th century and the disruption of removal, porcupine quillwork was practiced by many indigenous cultures throughout North America. For Arapahos, quillwork played a central role in religious life within their most ancient and sacred traditions. Quillwork was manifest in all life transitions and appeared on paraphernalia for almost all Arapaho ceremonies. The designs and the meanings they carried were present on many objects used in everyday life, such as cradles, robes, leanback covers, moccasins, pillows, and tipi ornaments, liners, and doors.
In his book, Anderson demonstrates how, through the action of creating quillwork, Arapaho women became central participants in religious life, often studied as the exclusive domain of men. He also shows how quillwork challenges predominant Western concepts of art and creativity: adhering to sacred patterns passed down through generations of women, it emphasized not individual creativity, but meticulous repetition and social connectivity-an approach foreign to many outside observers.
Drawing on the foundational writings of early-19th-century ethnographers, extensive fieldwork conducted with Northern Arapahos, and careful analysis of museum collections, “Arapaho Women’s Quillwork” shows the importance of this unique art form to Arapaho life and honors the devotion of the artists who maintained this tradition for so many generations.
Anderson’s research centers on cultural anthropology – and particularly North American indigenous peoples in Wyoming and Colorado. This fall, Anderson took a semester-long sabbatical to concentrate his studies on the history of the Arapaho Nation on the Wind River Reservation. He previously worked on the reservation for several years and returned to reconnect with his Arapaho family, pursue some new lines of study, and reopen other unfinished studies.
He joined the HWS faculty in 2008 and is also the author of “One Hundred Years of Old Man Sage: An Arapaho Life Story” and “The Four Hills of Life: Northern Arapaho Knowledge and Life Movement.”