Plains Madonna by Charles Banks Wilson

While attending the Annual Quapaw Tribal Pow Wow the weekend of July 4, 5, 6 & 7th in 1984, I purchased this program. Mary Beth Skye was the Head Lady Dancer at this event. The portrait on the front of the program was the beautiful and well-known portrait by Charles Banks Wilson of Mary Beth Skye, titled Plains Madonna. After the great honor of meeting both of them, they graciously signed my program.

Plains Madonna by Charles Banks Wilson
Plains Madonna by Charles Banks Wilson

Written on the inside cover:

Within the great Oklahoma Capitol Murals which crown the vaulted rotunda, is a buckskin dressed figure visitors have singled out for special attention and given the title the “Plains Madonna.” In the mural panel, Indian Immigration, the Oklahoma Artist, Charles Banks Wilson, has shown her in an attitude protective of her baby, however, others have seen more than this in the figure. She has become a symbol of motherhood through the ages.

In researching his murals among Oklahoma’s 63 Indian tribes, the artist considered many young women as possible models for the Indian mother. He finally selected Mary Beth Skye as having the most ideal features he had seen in his travels. Coincidentally, this full blood girl lived only a few miles from the artist’s home in Miami, Oklahoma. Her expressive dignity and ethnic beauty as captured in his art, will be an inspiration to millions in the years to come.

Indian Profile by Charles Banks Wilson
The Young Chief (…or sometimes called Indian Profile)
By Charles Banks Wilson

For a fun little flashback into the past, here is what was written on the back inside cover (in 1984) along with a list of the Head People.

Surprisingly few Oklahomans know the historical fact that this land, which became the State of Oklahoma, was originally owned by the Quapaw Indians. This tribe, the southern-most of the Sioux, also owned all of Arkansas, (a fact most Arkansans are aware of) and the rich western edge of Louisiana. Today only four pureblood Quapaw remain alive as survivors of this great tribe which was here first and was known and respected by explorers DeSoto and Marquette. The purebloods of all the tribes, who are fortunate to have any, represent the Indian heritage as does nothing else.

The four drawings of the Quapaw purebloods (featured in his “Search of the Purebloods” book) are a part of an ongoing project begun by Charles Banks Wilson in 1937. He began by drawing Indians of the tri-state area, later enlarging this phase of his varied art career to include drawings of over 200 representatives of American Indian tribes. Not since George Catlin in 1828 has any artist drawn so many tribes. An exhibition of 60 of the original sketches, drawn from life, “Search for the Purebloods”, has been touring Oklahoma and neighboring states under the sponsorship of the Stovall Museum, University of Oklahoma, and the Kerr Foundation. The current exhibition is to be expanded this year to include an additional 25 tribes and will be seen in other sections of the country.  (…as written in 1984)

Charles’ daughter, Carrie is a former Miss Indian Oklahoma. Her son, now nearing two, was the first Quapaw baby born in Arkansas in over 200 years. His wife, Edna, is a historian of the Quapaw tribe.


Head Lady Dancer: Mary Bootsie Skye Alexander of Norman, OK; Head Northern Dancer: Delilah Conner Whitaker, Sapulpa, OK, Quapaw-Seneca-Cayuga; Head Gourd Dancer: Rufus Squirrel, Wichita, KS; Head Singer: Troy Littleaxe, Bartlesville, OK, Shawnee; Head Man Dancer: Tony Shawnee, Tulsa, OK, Quapaw-Shawnee; Masters of Ceremonies: Charles Dawes, Ft. Smith, AR, Ottawa and Jake Whitecrow, Denver, CO, Quapaw-Seneca; Arena Directors were Charlie Blaylock and Bill Griffin.

Published in: on March 12, 2008 at 10:51 pm  Comments (3)