The current issue of American Indian Art magazine features an article by Professor of Anthropology Jeff Anderson, titled “The Sacred Art of Arapaho Quillwork.”
The article, as the magazine’s synopsis reads, “demonstrates how Arapaho women became central participants in the tribe’s ritual life through the activity of creating quillwork, whose sacred patterns were passed down from woman to woman through the generations.”
Anderson has been researching Arapaho culture, language and history for more than 25 years.
“Traditional art has always been central to that research from the very beginning and was a big part of my fieldwork in the Northern Arapaho community on the Wind River Reservation (Wyoming) in the late 1980s to mid-1990s,” says Anderson, whose work on Arapaho quillwork in particular began in the early 1990s.
Publishing on a variety of topics in the interim, Anderson honed his research on Arapaho art into a focused project by about 2004, “when I began visiting various museums and archives, as well as doing online research of museum collection databases that only became available at that time,” he says.
The results of that project were published in an illustrated monograph, Arapaho Women’s Quillwork: Motion, Life, and Creativity (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2013), which examines various kinds of movement and motion involved in the creative process, religious context, symbolism, history, and current situation of the now extinct sacred tradition.
Not long after the book was published, editors at American Indian Art magazine contacted Anderson to solicit work for an upcoming issue.
Anderson completed the final work on the piece while leading a study abroad program in Rome this fall. “Beyond any words I can provide, that experience afforded a remarkable mixing of ways of seeing art and beauty in quillwork through the mirrors of Italian creativities past and present,” he says.
The article features images and descriptions of objects that did not find a place in Anderson’s recent book, and is geared toward “a general, educated readership rather than specialists in American Indian art history and anthropology,” Anderson says. “What I realized in this project overall is that it is much easier to theorize in one’s writing than to richly describe things. In all, it is very gratifying to bring these artworks and the lives of women artists who made them out of the dark museum drawers and archive boxes into the light of today where the world can see and appreciate one more path to beauty in the immense human plurality of creativities.”
Anderson joined the HWS faculty in 2008. He received his M.A. and Ph.D. from University of Chicago and his B.A. from Knox College.