A Comanche shield and cover
Lot 5228
A Comanche shield and cover
diameter 23 1/2in and 25 1/2in
Sold for US$ 88,500 inc. premium

Lot Details
Property of a Nevada Family LLP
A Comanche shield and cover A Comanche shield and cover A Comanche shield and cover
A Comanche shield and cover
The thick slightly concave shield of single-ply fire-hardened buffalo hump hide, painted with all native and mineral pigments, depicting a pair of buffalo horns and a semicircular device, possibly the head of the buffalo or perhaps a setting sun on a horizon line, over a series of circular motifs, a feather fan splayed out below, strips of red stroud cloth fastened to a hide band about the upper perimeter and suspended at either side, a row of feather attachments (legal replacements) hang across the top, a hide strap sling tied at the back with both ends pierced and fringed, a short length of braided hair looped about each, the reverse with two sizable semicircular areas on opposing lower edges with the skin's outer layer scraped away to reveal a lighter under-layer; along with its undecorated soft hide cover, a single trapezoidal tab with sawtooth edge suspended at top, a thong at back runs through the slatted perimeter for the purpose of closure.
diameter 23 1/2in and 25 1/2in


  • Provenance:
    A private collection, Southern California; Sherwood's Spirit of America, Beverly Hills; Christopher Selser Indian Art, Santa Fe; Bruce Gilman collection, Colorado; Christopher Selser collection; a New Mexican family collection

    - Taylor, Colin F., BUCKSKIN AND BUFFALO, Rizzoli International Publications, Inc., New York, 1998, p. 67: for an early Comanche shield with buffalo head and feather fan motifs, similarly adorned with trade cloth on the perimeter, collected by Jean Louis Berlandier in 1828
    - Horse Capture, Vitart, Waldberg, and West, ROBES OF SPLENDOR, The New Press, New York, 1993, p. 102 (lower, lefthand corner) and inside rear cover, for depictions of an 18th century exploit robe showing a Plains warrior wielding a shield in battle painted with buffalo horns on a median horizon over a series of circles.
    - The University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia has a shield strikingly similar to the present lot (accession #NA5595) purchased in 1917 from The American Art Gallery and entering the collection as "Sioux". Although since that time academic opinions have varied as to its possible attribution, the symmetrical and clearly intentional stripped away areas on the reverse would seem to support a Plains (as opposed to Pueblo) provenance as the greater likelihood. Such treatment can be seen on Crow shields to the degree that some experts believe it a diagnostic characteristic.

    "We must assume that the tradition of making images on the hide surfaces of special ritual paraphernalia is...an ancient one; the men who made the earliest petroglyphs must also have created their special designs on portable and fragile objects, which have not survived as the rock art has...Consider as an example the shield used by the Plains warrior. Its thick rawhide certainly made it an effective defensive object in hand-to-hand combat, but its real value lay in its being the locus of a spiritual power that could protect or aid its proper owner as long as he performed the rituals necessary to its use. The images painted on personal rather than societal or clan shields were dictated by dreams or visions received by their original owners. While these shields could be transferred, duplicated, or even sold, their central image remained unchanged because it was the source of power." (referring to a Crow shield with the painted image of a buffalo) "The representation was meant to portray not a particular buffalo but Buffalo in general, the affective and eternal essence of Buffalo-ness." from Maurer, Evan, VISIONS OF THE PEOPLE, The Minneapolis Institute of the Arts, 1992, pp. 31-32

    The present lot exhibits classic, early Plains characteristics of manufacture - it is fire-hardened, shrunken, and hide-glue impregnated; it is single-ply, very thick (1/2") and completely unpliable; it has the diagnostic pounded and rolled edges found on Plains war shields; it is larger than most mid-19th century or later Plains shields, a fact that suggests an earlier dating (shields of this size or even larger were painted in the 1830's, a relatively early stage in the Plains Indian equestrian era, as in Karl Bodmer's famous "Bison Dance of the Mandan Indians" and George Catlin's depiction of a Comanche man "Little Spaniard, a Warrior"), while painted in a design that is most often associated with the Pueblo area, most specifically the village of Jemez. One can argue that, as in a technically intricate procedure like weaving, the signature of a hand-worked object is the method of manufacture and not the surface decoration. Furthermore, the case can also be made that this shield's iconography is by no means exclusive to the Pueblo area (as can be seen in the Berlandier and University of Pennsylvania Museum shields cited above), but only better known there due to a less diversified, more repetitive design vocabulary as practiced throughout the Rio Grande valley and adjoining areas. Shield iconography, in fact, relates to power symbols and metaphoric elements of world order of the warriors who carried them. Shield imagery may repeat similar features in both the Plains and Pueblo world, however this relates to overlaps in belief systems and patron power images. Religious and philosophical ideas and their attendant iconographic displays have traveled complex paths, brought along through peoples' migrations during the prehistoric, protohistoric, and historic eras. A particular design motif usually does not designate tribal affiliation. Even though tribal groups may use similar and repetitive iconography, the images all have definite individual characters. Good examples of the 'buffalo horns on a median horizon' and 'feather fan' designs, as represented in this shield, can be seen in shield petroglyphs left by protohistoric or earlier cultures in sites located in Wyoming, South Dakota, and other Plains states (see Keyser, James D. and Klassen, Michael A., PLAINS INDIAN ROCK ART, University of Wahington Press, Seatle, 2001, p. 196, ill. 13.7 upper right, and p. 203, ill. 13.16-f bottom right).

    Attesting to the tremendous importance paid to war shields in Plains culture, Ron McCoy writes in CIRCLES OF POWER, Plateau magazine, The Museum of Northern Arizona, 1984: "With a shield, a warrior went into battle fully armed; without it he was essentially unarmed, lacking the blessings of supernatural protection necessary for victory. These blessings were as real to the Plains Indians as any benefit accruing to Hebrews from the Ark of the Covenant or to Christians bathing at Lourdes." (p. 19) "Shields are rare, vital, and important parts of the American heritage. They speak of another time, when people strove for contact with the elemental forces of the universe and achieved that goal...Though the people who dreamed the dreams and saw the visions have long since disappeared, some of the shields' Medicine cannot help but remain intact.
    Throughout the Southwest and Great Plains, in all cases - whether Hopi or Navajo, Zuni or Apache, Keresan or Tonoan, Sioux or Cheyenne, Blackfoot or Arapaho, Kiowa or Crow - shields served as defensive weapons. But aside from their usefulness in parrying enemy blows before the advent of firearms, shields represented mystical forces, gifts bestowed upon worthy supplicants by the mysterious forces of the universe. Each shield was venerated, and each, above and beyond anything else it may have been was and still is a circle of power." (p. 30)

    For more comprehensive information on this lot, including relevant documents, photos, letters and research, please contact the Native American, Pre-Columbian and Tribal Art Department with any enquiries.
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