Many ancient civilizations used the walls of caves and the surfaces of pottery to tell their stories.
They used what they could find to “paint a picture” of the world around them. Native Americans also painted on animal hides, such as deer or buffalo.
The Northern Plains Indians used deer and buffalo hides for both practical and ceremonial use. When the weather was cold, they used animal hides as clothing and blankets to keep warm. Oftentimes, leaders in the community would wear specially painted hides to indicate their standing to other tribe members. Others wore specially painted hides to commemorate great acts of bravery or courage.
Native Americans often painted deer and buffalo hides in order to communicate with one another, and essentially, it was an alternative to writing something down.
The history of the tribe would be recorded and painted onto animal hides; that hide would be passed from generation to generation. Instead of writing biographies or recording history through journals, which we often do today, Native Americans would paint stories onto hides to ensure that future generations knew about their history.
The earliest known painted hide dates back to approximately 1880 but historians believe that hide painting had been a popular form of record-keeping long before that.
Hide paintings that depicted ordinary life, common activities such as hunting, and the importance of the buffalo seemed to be most popular.
Many traditional Native Americans still use the method of hide painting today but many tribes use modern forms of record-keeping to tell their stories, including writing and typing.
Here at Kachina House, we have a painted hide available. It is a “Native American Small Hopi Painted Hide with Buffalo Warrior” and was painted by Richard Gorman. This small painted deer hide shows a Buffalo Warrior and his shield. He is dressed to go out and hunt the mighty buffalo. This portrait of a hunter in his headdress is remarkable. The detail in the face is exquisite. Richard Gorman is well-known for his painting and his carving.