Debra K. Box
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.