Tipis and odalisques: what is real history?

On one of our winter walks Skye and I came upon this tipi.  Traditionally the poles are made from cleaned and stripped pine …

… and the fastenings are also made from wooden stakes.

Skye sniffed to see who else had been inside this modern tipi, with a covering made from stitched canvas.

There is a quiet majesty associated with a tipi.  Even this one that is located in a small clearing on the grounds of Carleton University in Ottawa.  The many footprints indicate that others have found it enticing as well.  You can’t help but enter…and by doing so, into the past.

For this iconic dwelling has the power to transport you.  The famous American photographer Edward S. Curtis (1868-1952) captured this Sioux tipi on film around 1908 and called it ‘The Winter Camp’; it can be found here, on the Library of Congress website.

This print, also by Curtis, is entitled ‘The Village Herald’ and for me evokes romantic childhood images of Hollywood-ized ‘cowboys and Indians’.  It is hard to say how many of Curtis’ images were staged and dramatized for the camera and his non-native audience; some of his photos were clearly ‘parlour’ shots:

This man is from the Zuni tribe in what is now the south-western United States and he is shown essentially as a reclining nude in the grand odalisque style popularized by Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres.  This photo dates from around 1903.

If I’ve piqued your interest about tipis and their rich history, you can find a comprehensive bibliography here.

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