Debra K. Box
Southern Ute

Rainbow Valley
Parfleche Container

8" L x 6" W x 6" H

Parfleche is a French Canadian word coined by French Canadian fur traders at the time of their earliest contact with Prairie and Eastern Plains Indian tribes in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries. It is derived from the French term, parer (to parry or turn aside) and fleche (arrow), referring to war shields that were made of heavy buffalo rawhide and had the ability to turn away an arrow.

But sturdy untanned hides also made excellent storage and travel containers for the early Native people of the Plains. From this tradition, Southern Ute artist Debra Box constructs containers from untanned hides in authentic Southern Plains style. She takes part in Santa Fe Indian Market, and her creations have found their way into such movies as Dances with Wolves.

Living in Colorado Springs, 49-year-old Box does not have access to buffalo hides. But virtually every aspect of her work with cowhide reflects her ancestors’ methods. She soaks the hide, cleans it, lashes it to a wooden frame to dry in the sun, and scrapes it.

From the prepared hide she constructs various-size boxes, flat storage cases, tubular bonnet cases and quivers for arrows and bows. The ties are smoked and brain tanned buckskin. Finally, she adorns the containers with paint from ground earth pigments. Of her work, she says, “I get a lot of inspiration knowing someone will appreciate it.”

"My art reflects feelings for the past. I apply traditional techniques and use the same materials as my grandmother and great- grandmother did. My designs are my own creation based on museum collections, photographs, and books. My workmanship has the look and feel of having been created 100 years ago."

As these and other lesser-known ancient arts are increasingly practiced, collected and more widely exposed, their gifts of beauty, utility and cultural continuity will be even more appreciated by Natives and non-Natives alike.

Debra Box received a great honor from her people by being chosen to represent the Southern Ute Nation, along with U.S. Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell, at the grand opening of the Smithsonian's National Museum of the American Indian in Washington D.C. in the fall of 2004. A hand painted parfleche box very similar to this one is on permanent display at the museum.

Additionally, Debra has won awards at nearly every Santa Fe Indian Market since 1987 - including several blue ribbons and the distinctive SWAIA Fellowship.

Her work appears in several prestigious public and private collections and was also chosen by the Governor of Colorado, Bill Owens, to be given to Prince Andrew, The Duke of York, as an international gift of friendship.

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