The art history of Native North America built its corpus through considerations of “art-by-appropriation,” referring to selections of historically produced objects reconsidered as art, due to their artful properties, in addition to “art-by-intention,” referring to the work by known artists intended for the art market. The work of Siyosapa, a Hunkpapa/Yanktonai holy man active at Fort Peck, Montana during the 1880s and 1890s, troubles these distinctions with his painted drums and muslin paintings featuring the Sun Dance sold to figures of colonial authority: Military officers, agency officials, and others. This essay reassembles the corpus of his work through the analysis of documentary and collections records. In their unattributed state, some of his creations proved very influential during early attempts by art museums to define American Indian art within a modernist, twentieth century sense of world art history. However, after reestablishing Siyosapa’s agency in the creation and deployment of his drums and paintings, a far more complicated story emerges. While seemly offering “tourist art” or “market art,” his works also resemble diplomatic presentations, and represent material representations of his spiritual powers.
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