When I was the first Curator of the new Museum of the Plains Indian on the Blackfeet Reservation in Montana, I first came to know Olga Ross Hannon. She was Chairman of the Art Department at Montana State College in Bozeman, and I found that we had a common interest in Blackfeet Indian Art. She proposed to record faithfully, in a series of silk-screened plates, the colorful murals painted on the exterior surfaces of Blackfeet Indian tipis. I agreed to write a brief introduction to accompany the plates and tell of the history and functions of painted lodges among the Blackfeet tribes.

Another dimension was brought to this project by the researches of Cecile Black Boy, a full blood Blackfeet Indian, who, during the 1940s, collected Blackfeet legends under the sponsorship of the Museum of the Plains Indian for the Montana Writers' Project of the Public Works of Art. Several of the many legends narrated to Cecile Black Boy by older Blackfeet Indians told of the origins of painted tipis. Nine of these origin legends collected by Cecile Black Boy are presented here as examples of Indian beliefs about how painted tipis originated. She was also the interpreter when Chewing Black Bones, owner of the Single Circle Otter Tipi, told me the legend of its origin in 1951. The story of the origin of the Bear Tipi owned by Mrs. Louis Champagne was told to me at Mrs. Champagne's suggestion by Fish Wolf Robe at the time I negotiated the purchase of that Bear Tipi for the Museum of the Plains Indian in 1943. Other origin legends for Blackfeet painted tipis had been collected and published earlier; the origin of the Snake Tipi, for example, was told to Clark Wissler, anthropologist of the American Museum of Natural History, during the first decade of this century.

During the summers of 1944 and 1945 Mrs. Hannon and Miss Jessie Wilber, one of her colleagues on the faculty of the Art Department at Montana State College, visited the Sun Dance encampments of the South Piegan near Browning and at Heart Butte on the Blackfeet Reservation in Montana, and the Sun Dance encampment of the Blood Indians on their reserve near Cardston in southern Alberta. With the kindly permission and co-operation of the Indian owners of the painted tipis in those encampments, they executed numerous sketches, made' color notes and took color slides of those lodges. They studied the colorful dwellings from many angles before they selected the best view of each to portray in their silkscreened reproductions. Every effort was made to render the forms and colors of these striking designs as they were in the Indian originals.

Olga Ross Hannon died soon after her field studies were completed in 1946. Miss Wilber and Cyril H. Conrad, who then became Chairman of the Art Department at Montana State College, completed the designs, cut the stencils and produced prints of five of the painted tipis. The results abundantly justified Mrs. Hannon's faith in the silk-screened print as an effective medium for recording the bold and exceedingly colorful designs on Blackfeet painted lodges.

Since her retirement, Miss Wilber has been able to complete the design and reproduction of the 26 painted tipis in this series. She has been assisted by Sage Sigerson and Stacy Hamm, and aided by grants from the Montana Arts Council through the Museum of the Rockies on the campus of Montana State University (formerly Montana State College). We are especially grateful to Dr. Leslie C. Drew, Director of the Museum of the Rockies, and to Mr. David E. Nelson, Executive Director of the Montana Arts Council, for their continued encouragement of this project.

For all of us who have been associated with this project it has been a labor of love. It has offered us opportunities to express our appreciation of some of the, most original and most impressive art created in Montana and adjoining portions of Alberta in historic times. Indeed, some of these tipi designs may have been painted by Blackfeet Indians as long two centuries ago. It seems especially fitting, therefore, to be able to offer this series of painted tipi designs to colleges and museums as part of Montana's contribution to the nationwide celebration of the Bicentennial of the United States of America.

John C. Ewers

Smithsonian Institution
Washington, D.C.
September 30, 1975