Native American Hand Carved “Elk” Buffalo Horn Spoon w. Moose Hair Quilling

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Buffalo Spoon “Elk Dreamer” 

Buffalo Horn spoons represent the keeping of the home and the connection to providing and sustenance. In the old style of women’s adornment, it was worn as part of a woman's traditional dress including, strike-a-light, awl case, knife sheath, etc. Horns, or He Lakota, symbolize strength, protection and are coveted in adornment. This relationship has lasted and continues into our contemporary lives.

The spoon is carved as a single piece from buffalo horn and the process is complex. The horn is compacted hair and it gets reworked and reworked through a combination of heating and cooling. Patience is vital. You only have one shot. If you cut it too much, you will lose the vision of the piece. If you heat it the wrong way, you lose the strength. Through dry and wet heat any shape imaginable is possible. Tools and grinding move it into its finished state. But ultimately it is fire and water coupled with patience and prayer that contributes the most.

The elk imagery represents the birth of a child and of courting. “Elk medicine” is considered a sacred aphrodisiac, for courting. However, the quillwork brings in deeper imagery that leads to the title. The quillwork symbolizes the earth (represented in green) covered in ocean (represented in blue) and then stars on each side of it. Those are connected. You can’t have one without the other. It also connects to the representation of a Lakota concept of “same above as below”. This represents symbolically our connection to the Star People and how our lives reflect this sacred connection. For me, these two stars represent star-crossed lovers. In order to create life and hold that possibility, we need love and strength, a teaching from the Star People. So “Elk Dream” reminds us of all of this.

"In this piece, I feel like I earned that flexibility in the horn. It has opened up new possibilities for me. It is a first of its kind for me, and only a few of these examples are in existence. Instead of asking myself what vision can I achieve, I feel like the horn taught me more of what is possible. Asking myself along the way, if I thin the horn out this much, what does it do? I let the experience teach me what is possible. I have been inspired by older pieces held in the permanent collection at the National Museum of American Indian. For years, I hadn’t felt ready to produce such pieces. And then one day I decided I had to stop dreaming about this spoon and just do it."

"The quill plating on it has always been used to adorn our most sacred items such as pipe stems, and many implements of providing and protecting." The technique requires the weaving between two threads. It is a single form of work, splicing quills into the weave individually. So when you start, you have to continue until you finish. You wrap the weaving around the piece and you have to have these two parallel threads stationary and the piece is always in your hand. You are always maintaining the tension so it doesn’t uncoil. Consistency in quill size is a standard part of quality in the art form and must also be maintained in plating.

Bill Mendoza: Oglala Lakota Sioux, Pine Ridge Indian reservation of South Dakota.

Length 13 | Width 7 | Height 4.5 inches
All measurements are approximate.


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