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)  

Pow Wow Etiquette

General Guidelines to Follow

A Pow Wow is a Native American gathering that was originated to bring many tribal members together in peace and harmony, and to this day this tradition has continued. The tribal members congregate to show support for one another as well as display traditional wares and dance. Also, Native American foods are available for you to sample.

For many years, Pow Wows were closed off to the public for various reasons, but now the American Indians welcome anyone who has a true interest in the culture and fellowship. Pow Wows are a great source of learning about Native American culture, and most tribes encourage the public to come.

Before attending a Pow Wow, there are several things you should know. Pow Wows have rules of etiquette that should be followed. These rules have been handed down over generations from elders to youth and represent respect, brotherhood, and courtesy for the tradition and life. Every Pow Wow has a “Master of Ceremony.” The “Master of Ceremony” is usually a tribal head or an elder. The job of the “Master of Ceremony” is a demanding one, for it is this person who leads the entire Pow Wow.

The “Master of Ceremony” begins the “Grand Entry” where the dancers enter the ring and are seen in full regalia for the first time. This person also has all control of any activity within the Pow Wow and leads many prayers. You should stand and men must remove their hat (unless traditional head gear) during the Grand Entry, Flag Songs, Invocation, Memorial, Veterans Songs, and the Closing Song. At closing, a prayer will be said to send you on your way. The Master of Ceremonies will determine if you should or should not stand during closing prayer. If you are near the arena and dancers are dancing, you should again sit down until the dance is finished. Do not sit within the arena. The chairs inside the arena are reserved for the dancers. Use the outside circle or bleachers if provided.

During the Gourd Dancing, only Gourd Dancers and Gourd Dance Societies are to enter the Dance arena. Remember: owning a gourd rattle does not make one a Gourd Dancer. Check with the local Societies. Please do not permit your children to enter the dance circle unless they are dancing.

The arena is the area where dancers step lively and show their traditional dancing skills. The arena is in the form of a circle. The reason the dancers always dance within this circle is because the circle represents “The Circle of Life.” Being invited to dance in the circle is the only time a spectator is allowed in the arena.

If you want to take pictures, check with the pow wow host first, then check with the person you are taking pictures of and ASK THEIR PERMISSION. Under no circumstances may you enter the arena to take photos. Put your camera down for all memorial dances. All tape recording must be done with the permission of the Master of Ceremonies and the Lead (or Head) Singer of EACH drum. When a new drum starts, do not enter the arena to get to the other drum. Don’t run. Miss the song and wait for the next one to take your time getting to the drum. Nothing is more rude than “Recorder-runners” circling around a drum. Many Pow Wows disallow this anyway. To take a photograph or make a videotape, or make a sound recording, without permission, shows lack of respect for the culture.

Only those with the permission of the Lead Singer may sit at a drum. (And it’s a good idea to know the songs because it’s often a habit to ask the “stranger” to lead one.)

If you are asked to dance by an elder, do so. It is rude and disrespectful to say, “I don’t know how.How can you learn if you turn the elders down?

Exercise respect during these special times because these are the most sacred times during a Pow Wow. Exercise good judgment at all times. No matter how tempting, do not touch the regalia of any of the dancers. Touching any part of a dancer’s costume shows lack of education for the culture as well as lack of respect for tradition. Many of the parts of dancers’ costumes are eagle feathers that have been blessed. If you touch the eagle feathers, the dancer will need to disrobe and have the parts blessed again. In extreme cases, the dancer will not be allowed to dance.

Again, the drums are sacred, and it is believed that anyone who takes a place behind the drums has been selected by God to be there. No one drums without special permission, and no one sits in the drumming area without special permission of the head singer. Great offense is taken if you choose to sit in this area.

No one will make unreasonable demands; you can count on that. The invitation may be for a simple dance. You should accept all invitations graciously and enjoy yourself. You should never turn down an invitation by anyone, especially elders, during a Pow Wow. If you are not wearing traditional Regalia, you may dance only on social songs (like Two-Step, Blanket Dance, Honoring Songs, Circle, etc..). Sometimes a blanket dance is held to gather money. You may enter the circle to donate. If you want to participate but you do not know the dance steps, most are easily learned and someone will instruct you as you go.

Never bring alcoholic beverages, drugs, or attend a Pow Wow under the influence of any such substance. The Pow Wow is a place of happiness and brotherhood so do not spoil it for yourself or others by attending under the influence.

Urban Pow Wows are much more “rigid” than a Pow Wow on the rez. As people are away from the comfort of culture, they tend to take things more seriously. Please abide by peoples wishes and requests. Each tribe has their own ways and does things differently. Some dance around clock-wise, others counter clock-wise. If the host asks, dancers sometimes voluntarily show their respect by temporarily changing their way(s). Show your respect by doing the same.

There is so much to be learned from a Pow Wow. Remember always that Native American Indian dances are more than the word “dance” can describe. They are a ceremony and a prayer which all life encompasses and produce many emotional and spiritual reactions. Some dances are old, some are brand new… the culture continues to live and evolve. You will indeed be enriched by knowledge of and respect for a culture that is the oldest in this country. You will also reap the blessings that everyone receives from attending a Pow Wow.

Please Note: Every POWWOW is different! The key is respect!

In Summary:

  • If you are participating: be respectful by being on time!
  • Bring a lawn chair to set up at an unoccupied area on the peripheral of the circle.
  • Enjoy yourself and feel comfortable that no one will make unnecessary demands upon you. Feel free to ask questions; if you need instruction, someone will help you.
  • If you are not wearing traditional regalia, you are generally welcome to be an active dance participant during social songs.
  • Follow the instructions and lead of the Master of Ceremony.Do not join the dance until the leader’s ground members are on the floor.
  • Accept all invitations graciously and “always be reverent at the appropriate times.”
  • Women who are not shaking shells should not join the dance until the majority of shellshakers are on the floor and should never get in front of a shellshaker.
  • Adhere to the intermittent male-female dance formation (i.e., a man should not join the dance behind another man, a woman should not get behind another woman).
  • Be aware that it is polite and respectful to ask permission before taking photos, videos or sound tracks.
  • Do not touch any parts of the regalia of the dancers.
  • Very short dresses, skirts or shorts are not appropriate attire.
  • Never bring alcoholic beverages or drugs, gold paint cans or attend a Pow Wow under the influence of any other such substance. Alcohol and drugs are destroying our way of life and these “bad” spirits are not welcome.
  • Do not participate in any type of inappropriate behavior or purposely offend. It is not the place!
  • After the dance has ended, return to your chair.
  • Relax and have fun. Donate, if you can. Also , if possible, buy something from the vendors.
  • Make an extra effort to walk to the trash can. No one should have to clean up behind you after you leave. Respect Mother Earth.
  • Leave enriched and feeling blessing.
  • Published in: on June 28, 2007 at 5:05 pm  Leave a Comment  

    A Pow Wow I’ve enjoyed through the years… you should check it out!

    The “Kiheka Steh Indian Club PowWow” – Skiatook, Oklahoma

    On October 23, 1969, a new Indian Club called Kihekah-Steh (Tall Chief) Club of Skiatook, was formed. The members set as their purpose the promotion and preservation of the culture of the American Indians and the honor of all service men.

    Every year since the club’s organization, the Kihekah-Steh Pow-Wow has been held to remember with honor Chief Ki-He-Kah-Steh and all service men. The Annual Pow Wow is generally held toward the end of July, and is a three-day celebration.

    The Grand Entry parade will start at approximately 8 p.m. each evening. The IICOT Color Guard, a Native American Veteran Color Guard, will present the colors.

    Gourd Dancing by the Osage Gourd Clan will begin at 6:30 p.m. The Stomp Dance will be held Friday and Saturday nights. Other dances, including the Round Dance, War Dance, Snake Dance, Brush Dance, and Two Step, and songs will be featured during the three-day Pow Wow.

    Concessions, arts, and crafts will be available at the dance grounds throughout the three days of the Kihekah-Steh Pow Wow.

    Dance Contests will include:

  • Sr. Straight
  • Sr. Traditional
  • Sr. Cloth
  • Sr. Fancy
  • Sr. Buckskin
  • Jr. Straight
  • Jr. Traditional
  • Jr. Cloth
  • Jr. Buckskin
  • Jr. Fancy
  • Stomp Dance Etiquette

  • All people are generally welcome to be active dance participants.
  • Bring a lawn chair to set up at an unoccupied area on the peripheral of the circle.
  • Do not join the dance until the leader’s ground members are on the floor.
  • Women who are not shaking shells should not join the dance until the majority of shellshakers are on the floor and should never get in front of a shellshaker.
  • Adhere to the intermittent male-female dance formation (i.e., a man should not join the dance behind another man, a woman should not get behind another woman).
  • Very short dresses, skirts or shorts are not appropriate attire.
  • After the dance has ended, return to your chair.
  • Address: The dance grounds are located 5 miles north of Hwy 20 on Javine Hill Rd, then west on 193.
    Phone: 918-396-3702 (Always call and confirm events.)
    Admission Fee : Free Admission – Free parking

    Published in: on June 23, 2007 at 7:54 pm  Leave a Comment  

    Charles Banks Wilson’s Sketches of Woogee and Eva – In Search of the Purebloods

    Charles Banks Wilson

    Charles Banks Wilson is a well-known Oklahoma artist known for his contribution to the Indian art world. Growing up with a blind grandmother, Wilson learned to interpret the details of life both verbally and artistically. Wilson has sought out the last of the “pure bloods” and captured them ‘forever’ in his lithographs and paintings.

    This is the sketch of Eva that Charles Banks Wilson did, as published in his book, “In Search of the Purebloods” where he says of her, “I found her Comanche face reflecting a delightful personality. Of her it is said: She sings the old song.” She “did indeed” sing the old songs! He did an incredible job capturing her personality, I think. She was delightful and I will write more later about Eva.

    Of Woogee, he said: “Rainmaker” was in his trailer, near Elgin, Okla. and 14 or more dogs were in the yard. A fine artist and Indian dancer. However, it often rains when he is at a powwow – and when it does people are apt to say, Woogie, go home!” I have written previously about how Woogee would be brought in to places suffering from drought… but rain and powwows don’t always go very good together and they would sure give Woogee a hard time when he showed up at a powwow with the rain!

    The thing that I think Mr. Wilson best captured about Woogee was his inner strength and powerful pride. He was small in stature, but he resonated with such strong pride. He was a true warrior. Charles Banks Wilson portrays this well in his sketch of Woogee, perhaps more so than any other portrait I have ever seen of him.




    I had the great pleasure of meeting Charles Banks Wilson at the QuaPaw Powwow one beautiful summer night. He was very gracious to me. He was accompanied by his family and a woman who is well known due to a portrait he painted of her. He is one of my favorite artists, and I have great respect for both him and his work. Mr. Wilson attended the Chicago Art Institute, a dream I had when I was young, but which “unfortunately” was never fulfilled. I was able to visit it though… for a day, with my “primitive” portfolio in hand… and with great hopes that one day “perhaps I could find a way to become an artist like those I saw that day! My journey did not include going to the great Chicago Art Institute for professional training, but “fortunately,” I did find another path... another way to achieve those dreams. Or maybe… perhaps it was the path that “chose me.”

    The Quapaw Powwow is held on July 4th and it is the oldest Indian Powwow in the United States. For more than 130 years the celebration has been taking place and is well worth attending. It is one of my favorite powwows. It is at Beaver Springs State Park which is located about 3 miles from the Kansas state line.

    Charles Banks Wilson – Biography

    Few other artists have become so identified with their state as Oklahoma’s Charles Banks Wilson. He was a painter, printmaker, teacher, lecturer, historian, magazine and book illustrator. His work has been shown in over 200 exhibitions in this country and throughout the world. The permanent collections of major museums and galleries that contain his paintings and prints of Oklahoma life are some of the most renown in the world. These include New York’s Metropolitan Museum, Washington’s Library of Congress, The Corcoran Gallery, Oklahoma State Capital, and the Smithsonian.

    When Charles Banks Wilson was born in 1918, his father was overseas fighting in World War I and his mother was visiting her parents in Arkansas. Despite the events surrounding his birth, Wilson grew up in Miami, Oklahoma, and today considers himself an Oklahoma native. Wilson’s thirst for art was reflected at an early age when he began drawing on virtually any flat and/or empty space including on the bottom of drawers, backs of pictures, and even under tables. In grade school, Wilson appeared in nine school plays and expressed his desire to be an actor. This notion changed however, under the influence of his father Charles B. Wilson – a professional trombone player. In the fifth grade Wilson began playing the trumpet, a hobby he would continue throughout high school. At this point in his education, Wilson took up drawing again. He started decorating various notebooks and blackboards in an attempt to improve his grades. His strategy proved successful, as after graduation Wilson was able to enroll at the Art Institute of Chicago. At the Art Institute, Wilson began a project whereupon he sketched portraits of numerous members of Oklahoma Indian tribes – a project that would soon become a lifelong artistic journey. While in Chicago, Wilson was also given an award from the Chicago Society of Lithographers and Etchers, and his work was added to the Art Institute collection as well.

    In 1941, Wilson completed his education at the Art Institute. Afterwards during his return to Oklahoma, he attended a stomp dance fire at a Quapaw pow wow. Here he met Quapaw Indian Princess, Edna McKibben, the very woman Wilson would later marry the following year. Next, Wilson was called to New York City with a commission from the Associated American Artists. Here he illustrated his first book, The Hill, exhibited a portrait of his wife in a National Academy show, and had his “Freedom’s Warrior” lithograph shown at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

    During the late 1940s, Wilson was kept busy with three one-man shows which took place at the Oklahoma City Art Center, the Amarillo Tri State Fair, and the Smithsonian Museum in Washington D.C. Wilson also continued illustrating; working on over five books including Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island, and completing a series of Will Rogers national calendars. Perhaps one of his greatest achievements came when the United States Senate selected four of Wilson’s paintings to be shown in 20 world capitals.

    Commissioned by the Oklahoma State Legislature, Wilson completed life-size portraits of Will Rogers, Sequoyah, and Senator Robert S. Kerr in 1963 for the state capitol rotunda. These portraits were so successful that they led to a second commission in 1966 for a similar style portrait of Indian athlete, Jim Thorpe. The portrait was unveiled one year later by Elmer Manatwa, Chief of the Sac and Fox Indians, and celebrated with a large Indian pow wow on capitol grounds. Merely three years after, Wilson was commissioned yet again by the Oklahoma Legislature to complete four major murals depicting Oklahoma history for the state capitol – thus cementing his legacy as an Oklahoma Art treasure. Wilson has since been awarded with the Governor’s Art Award and inclusion into the Oklahoma Hall of Fame.

    Published in: on June 10, 2007 at 12:28 am  Comments (2)