Native Artist Mary Lou Big Day: Preserving the Crow Culture

In the old days, dolls were made for young girls to teach them about their future responsibilities as women, as well as pass on cultural and family traditions…and Native American artist Mary Lou Big Day continues to revive this practice in modern times.

Following the pattern of tradition
Both as a Grandmother and as an artist, Mary Lou Big Day works to preserve her Crow heritage by creating beautiful dolls clothed in traditional Native American dress; each of her pieces offers a history lesson as she carefully follows the pattern of tradition…

"When I was a little girl my Grandmother taught me how to make these dolls. Through my years of growing up, after I married, and now as a grandmother myself, I have made many".

Symbolism of the doll's dress
Her dolls are reminiscent of a time in American Indian history after European contact and feature wool trade cloth, glass beads, and abalone shells (often acquired though trade at the time), as well as natural materials like buckskin, feathers, and horse hair.

The female dolls are often clothed in traditional red, blue, or green elk tooth dresses and carry coup sticks to show her husband's accomplishments in battle; they also wear elk tooth necklaces to represent a lost loved one. The male dolls wear buckskin shirts adorned with hair locks, and trade cloth breechcloths and leggings.

According to Mary Lou, the painting of the face is considered very sacred. The faces of her dolls do not have features (eyes, nose, mouth), instead they are painted with earth pigments in a design inspired by a vision had by her father-in-law.

About the Artist
Mary Lou is a member of the Crow tribe in Montana. She and her husband, Heywood, have traveled across the US and around the world sharing her doll making traditions and telling the story of how they originated. She has also received numerous awards, including The Indian Arts and Crafts Association's Artist of the Year.