B.YELLOWTAIL new collection

Apsaalooke model Kami Jo Whiteclay showcase a dress to released by fashion designer Bethany Yellowtail in conjunction with “Apsáalooke Women and Warriors,” on display at Chicago’s Field Museum through April 2021.

Bethany Yellowtail is operating her fashion business from her home in Los Angeles, an unexpected setback for the busy designer whose latest clothing line was set to be released in early March.

COVID-19 has drastically impacted Yellowtail’s business, from delaying overseas fabric suppliers to spurring a citywide “shelter-in-place” mandate in L.A.

The clothing line “will come out when it’s supposed to,” said the still optimistic Yellowtail. “I’m really grateful; we have an incredible following and people supporting us as a small Native-owned business. I am just trusting what is supposed to happen.”

Yellowtail, of the Apsáalooke (Crow) and Tsetsehestahese & So’taeo’o (Northern Cheyenne) nations, grew up on the Crow reservation. Her fashion line was to be released in conjunction with “Apsáalooke Women and Warriors” exhibit that opened March 13 at the Field Museum in Chicago. It is the largest exhibition of contemporary designs and historical artifacts of the Crow people ever assembled and had a brief public unveiling before the Field was closed to help stall the spread of COVID-19.

Yellowtail’s designs have been in development for more than a year. From floor-length and cocktail dresses to blouses and a business suit, each garment features designs inspired by the Crow tribe’s characteristic elk tooth dresses and geometric and floral beading patterns. It’s the largest collection she’s created since starting her business in 2014, featuring 12 new pieces currently residing on mannequins within the walls of the Field Museum.

Bethany Yellowtail fashions

Bethany Yellowtail’s 2019-2020 fashion designs are displayed in an exhibit celebrating the historical and contemporary art of the Crow tribe. The museum exhibit, titled “Apsáalooke Women and Warriors,” opened in in March at Chicago’s Field Museum. 

Bethany Yellowtail

Bethany Yellowtail is seen holding a beaded cradleboard from the Chicago Field Museum’s permanent collection. Yellowtail was part of a team of more than a dozen indigenous scholars, artists, and curators working on “Apsáalooke Women and Warriors,” on display at the museum through April 2021. 

“This collection is about re-framing women leadership in our communities and the ways we see Native women in those roles,” said Yellowtail, who included many Apsáalooke women in photo shoots and videos produced to announce the collection.

“I will be patient,” Yellowtail said. “No matter what, it will be in the permanent collection of the Field forever.”

A celebration of culture

Before the Field Museum temporarily closed, about 50 members of the Crow tribe gathered in downtown Chicago to celebrate the opening of exhibit, parading in full regalia on the campus of the University of Chicago. The historic exhibit was curated by indigenous women and pairs contemporary works by Apsáalooke people along with historical artifacts of the Crow tribe from the museum’s permanent collection.

Such an exhibit in a major museum is a triumph for the Apsáalooke people, whose stories have long been told by outsiders.

“It’s a celebration of Crow culture,” said Adam Sings in the Timber, a photojournalist whose life’s work has been photographing indigenous people. Portraits he took in collaboration with fellow tribal member JoRee LaFrance are on display at the Field Museum, selected from about 3,600 images taken of Apsáalooke women during last year’s Crow Fair.

JoRee LaFrance

This portrait of JoRee LaFrance, a member of the Apsáalooke tribe, hangs in Chicago’s Field Museum along with nearly 30 other photos taken during last year’s Crow Fair by Adam Sings in the Timber. 

Anna Paige

Across the course of a week, Sings in the Timber photographed women in their regalia, many wearing elk tooth dresses, holding ceremonial fans, and adorned in handmade beadwork. Each image displays a colorful sharpness, illuminated warmly by natural and artificial light “shaped” for each portrait with the support of Corrin Lamere, whose image is included in the series.

“A lot of this is a result of years of being passionate about portraying indigenous people truthfully and showcasing our strength and our pride,” said Sings in the Timber.

It wasn’t tough to find subjects for the photo series, said LaFrance. “I wanted to show how strong and how successful our women are. They are the backbone of our family. They are aunties, mothers, sisters, grandmas … I just really wanted to uplift them.”

The Field portraits are accompanied by text panels that display both English and Apsáalooke names, as well as an accomplishment each woman shared.

At age 24, LaFrance (whose Crow name Iichiinmaatchiilaash means Fortunate with Horses) is one of the youngest contributors, and said she sees herself and fellow Apsáalooke people reflected in their ancestors’ fight for the survival of their people.

“We are also contributing to the future of our children and to the future of our nation,” LaFrance said. “We have the same responsibility that they had.”

Sings In the Timber focuses his lens on the richness of indigenous culture, but said his intent was not to create works for an exhibit, but to collaborate and bring forward modern imagery that celebrates the culture.

Apsáalooke Women and Warriors

Velma Pretty on Top Pease sits in front of a large photo by Adam Sings in the Timber of dancers, including artist Ben Pease, at left, at Crow Fair. The image is one of several contemporary portraits by Sings in the Timber on display in the Field Museum’s new exhibition “Apsáalooke Women and Warriors,” which opened recently in Chicago, Ill.

“I acknowledge that I am the man I am today because of the Crow women and other Native women who have helped raise me throughout my entire life,” said Sings in the Timber. “This is a tribute and honoring of who I am, to really portray them in this elegant, beautiful, strong, powerful manner, because this is how I see these women.”

Women are pictured in regalia handed down within their families or made by hand for the individual. In LaFrance’s portrait, she wore a century-old dress that originally belonged to her great-grandmother.

Apsáalooke Women and Warriors

A visitor to the Field museum in Chicago takes a photo of portraits of female members of the Crow tribe, which were created by Adam Sings in the Timber and JoRee LaFrance. The portraits are displayed in an exhibit titled “Apsáalooke Women and Warriors,” which opened in in March at Chicago’s Field Museum. 

“We are reclaiming our narrative,” said Sings in the Timber. “Who better than the Crow to tell the Crow story?”

Female perspective

“Apsáalooke Women and Warriors” was imagined and executed by Nina Sanders, a curator who previously worked at Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian. A member of the Apsáalooke nation, Sanders was born and raised on the Crow Reservation, and her voice is present throughout the displays. In first person, she describes the history of her people, beginning with creation.

Research for Apsáalooke Women and Warriors

Curator Nina Sanders, center, works with staff of the National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C. during research for “Apsáalooke Women and Warriors,” on display at the museum through April 2021.

“Our emergence, our beginnings are vital to the ways we see ourselves,” said Sanders, who co-curated the exhibit with Meranda Roberts, a member of the Northern Paiute Nation. They set out to tell the story of the Apsáalooke people by focusing on women within the community.

“The narratives of women have largely fallen to the wayside,” Sanders said. “I’ve tried to put that at the forefront.”

Birdie Real Bird, whose beaded works are on display, said seeing the exhibit come together was emotional. “You start identifying with who you are and your family — your grandmothers and great-grandmothers.”

Apsáalooke Women and Warriors

Malisha Tso photographs her mother Marcella Katoney in a space set up to resemble a tipi curated by Nina Sanders at the Neubauer Collegium for Culture and Society in Chicago, Ill. on Thursday, March 12, 2020.

Real Bird identifies herself as “one of the elders” working among young curators, scholars, and artists of the Apsáalooke tribe ranging in age from 20 to their 80s. 

“I’m really happy for them that they will find their spot in their culture,” said Real Bird, who basked in the historic photographs throughout the exhibit, including a life-sized image of her father, Jim Real Bird, as a young boy with his grandmother Annie Medicine Crow-Real Bird and her husband, Frank Bethune. Annie, known as a skilled beadworker and kind woman who helped raise many of her grandchildren, was the only daughter of Chief Medicine Crow.

Annie Medicine Crow-Real Bird

Frank Bethune and Annie Medicine Crow-Real Bird and her grandchildren. Annie was the daughter of Chief Medicine Crow and Takes Many Prisoners. Frank Bethune was a rancher and is believed to the man who brought the Peyote religion to the Crow reservation around 1910. Frank married Annie after she was widowed from her first husband Real Bird, the father of her children. The children pictured are Annie?s grandchildren, the children of Mark Real Bird and Florence Medicine Tail-Real Bird: Clockwise from the top: Lorraine Real Bird (in cradle board), James Real Bird, and Martha Real Bird (holding cradleboard doll).

“You can kind of still see the family resemblance in her face,” said Real Bird. “Her great-great-grandchildren have those eyes.”

Sanders is among the descendants of Annie Medicine Crow-Real Bird. As a great great-granddaughter, she is in search of items made by her ancestor, including many beaded cradleboards she created that are no longer held by the family.

Such handmade items have been collected or purchased over time, often in exploitative ways that began in late 1800s. Many of the sacred and historical items of the Crow tribe obtained by the Field Museum have never been displayed to the public.

“When you have a Native artist create something, it invokes curiosity and questions in people, and you wonder what it means,” Sanders said. “That artist can speak to where they are coming from, why they created it, and talk about tradition, how it’s moved into a more modern way of thinking. New ways of being are incredibly important to move us forward and tell these stories that don’t exist in a public sphere.”

Yellowtail, who was brought on board during the initial phases of the exhibit, spent a year developing ideas with Sanders and working in close proximity to historic materials and sacred items held by the museum.

Research at Field Museum

Curator Nina Sanders holds an Apsáalooke saddle bag during research at Chicago’s Field Museum. Sanders paired artifacts in the museum’s permanent collection — many which have never been on display to the public — with works by more  than a dozen indigenous scholars, artists, and curators for “Apsáalooke Women and Warriors,” on display at the museum through April 2021.

“A lot of our community have never seen the things in these museums because they have been locked away from us for 100 years-plus,” Yellowtail said. That access informed her design process, and Sanders ensured the perspective of indigenous collaborators was honored, Yellowtail said.

“It has set a precedence for what could be for other institutions that will be working with indigenous communities.”

A beading life

Real Bird has been beading since age 12, when she was gifted a beading necklace and learned techniques from her grandmother, mother, and aunt.

“When I was young, I thought, ‘I’ll just sit with these beads for a while, and I’ll get up and live my life,’ and I haven’t been able to do that,” she said with a laugh. “It is my life, and it’s brought me a long ways.”

Elisa Jade Not Afraid

Elisa Jade Not Afraid at Field Museum exhibit with beaded work he created.

Apsáalooke Women and Warriors

“Let’s Round Dance,” a beadwork piece by Karis Jackson, on display at the Neubauer Collegium for Culture and Society in Chicago, Ill. on Thursday, March 12, 2020.

Contemporary beaders, such as Elias Not Afraid and Karis Jackson, are combining these traditional designs with contemporary flair. Not Afraid, who is from Lodge Grass and now living in Phoenix, was recently recognized by Vogue Magazine for his twist on traditional Crow beading, touted as a “radical design aesthetic” that has a heavy metal feel that incorporates skulls and spikes. His work for the Field Museum’s exhibition features a beaded spiked bag, a touchable beaded piece and a beaded wallpaper design. He is also featured in a video that runs on a loop showing how a beaded piece is put together. 

Lydia Falls Down, who lives in Pryor and learned how to bead by watching her aunt and grandmother, describes her style as a bit of history and a bit of modern. “And then you have the younger generation coming up with their own take on it,” she said. “I’m glad for us as a people that our art will continue, and seeing that they are still going to carry on. My grandkids are following in that same path.”

In 2012, beaded regalia that Falls Down created was purchased for the museum’s permanent collection, though she doesn’t see herself as an artist. “I’m just a beader,” she laughed. “But, it’s not every day that you have something in a place like this. What I’ve come to realize about this place and its level of prestige — it’s something I never imagined.”

Apsáalooke Women and Warriors

Birdie Real Bird, a beadwork artist and scholarly consultant raised on the Crow reservation, is seen in front of two models in the Chicago’s Field Museum as part of the “Apsáalooke Women and Warriors” exhibit, for which Real Bird contributed several beaded items.

Real Bird, a retired school counselor and teacher who resides in Garryowen, stays true to historic beadwork designs and seeks out examples of her tribe’s artistic lineage. Her creations have been sold to collectors around the globe, and she produces wearable beaded attire on commission.

“Every chance I get, I go into a museum to look at the collections, just to see them again and to inspire me to do more beadwork and keep that alive,” she said, eyeing a historic bag on display at the Field Museum. “I’m going to go home and make a bag like that.”

Real Bird beaded many of the belts that adorn models in the Field Museum, clothed in contemporary and historical fashion, and she was asked to replicate a belt that was too fragile to be put on display, featuring the hourglass motif seen throughout Crow designs.

Past, present and future

Research at Field Museum

The hourglass motif is prevalent throughout Apsáalooke designs. “There are several teachings around that design,” said fashion designer Bethany Yellowtail. “We are told about the hourglass signifying our connection to the creator at the top. The bottom is earth, and the center is the balance. It resonated with us and in our collections in the ways we tell stories through clothing.”

The hourglass is seen throughout Crow designs, a symbol of duality and of the human, earthy and spiritual elements of Apsáalooke life.

“It has been described as a representation of our humanness and what it means to be Apsaalooke,” said Ben Pease, a member of the Crow and Northern Cheyenne nations. Several of Pease’s paintings adorn the Field Museum, as does a 9-foot tall sculpture he created on-site.

Ben Pease at Field Museum

Ben Pease and wife Malisha Tso and children visit the Field Museum in Chicago where a major exhibition called “Apsáalooke Women Warriors” displayed art and artifacts from throughout the history of the Crow Tribe.

“The top triangle in the hourglass, some say, represents the spiritual world, and the bottom represents the land and those beings that live in Mother Earth,” said Pease. “Right in the middle is where we live as Apsáalooke people.”

"The Future in our Eyes"

“The Future in our Eyes,” by Ben Pease was sculpted on-site at Chicago’s Field Museum by the artist for the exhibit, “Apsáalooke Women and Warriors.” 

Pease’s sculpture, titled “Future in our Eyes,” was created after he observed a sculpture in Chicago that stereotyped Native Americans.

“I came up with the idea to do a sculpture of my own,” said Pease, who had never before attempted sculpting. He began with a small-scale clay model featuring a man and woman back-to-back that was 3D printed, then sculpted and painted by Pease at the museum.

“The way that we walk in this world are our expressions of our existence,” said Pease. “This is part of my humanness here.”

Pease describes the sculpture as representing all sides of gender “in contemporary times and in the past, and who we think we could be in the future.”

This duality is seen throughout the exhibition, striking a balance between women who have long been keepers of Apsáalooke culture and interactions between all genders within the tribe, including two spirit individuals, or “badé.”

Sanders said the foundation of the exhibit was done in the spirit of “Immachiikittuua,” created together collaboratively with support of tribal members who gathered, prayed, and labored together.

“Every single person who has come here is meant to be here and have an experience that will in some way continue to transform the world we live in,” said Sanders.


“Wherein Lies the Beauty of Life” by Ben Pease is seen on display at Chicago’s Field Museum, one of many works of art in Apsáalooke Women and Warriors created by members of the Crow tribe. 

Anna Paige

In working with historical items of the tribe’s past, LaFrance, who collaborated on the portraiture display, said everything is connected.

“We have learned the designs and the colors from those objects that are in the museum. Those same colors and designs were passed on from generation to generation. The purpose of those items in that museum are being taught to us, they keep continuing within our families from the next generation to the next. It goes to show you that there’s still a continuous history and culture that’s still in the making, and we are now a part of that.”

“Even the objects have their own voice, their own history,” Pease added. “They have their own futures.”

Photos: Apsáalooke Women and Warriors

Source link