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Oglala chief black bird's shirt: an update.

Following the publication of a previous article on Oglala Sioux chief Black Bird's finely beaded war shirt (Vol. 40, No. 2), which fetched a record price at NY Sotheby auction on 18 May 2011, the author was contacted by Hartmut Rietschel of Dresden, Germany with some very interesting new information.

In the final paragraph of my recent article, I had stated that the Sotheby shirt had once been part of the famous James Hooper Collection in Arundel, Sussex. I remember viewing the Hooper shirt in London prior to the sale of Native American artifacts from the Hooper Collection in November 1976.

In his letter, Herr Rietschel pointed out that, intriguingly, the Sotheby shirt and the Hooper Collection shirt are actually not one and the same, and that we are dealing with two quite distinct historic garments, presumably both used by the same Oglala chief, Black Bird. The present location of the Hooper shirt is unknown.

According to Herr Rietschel, the Hooper shirt once formed part of the Emil Lenders Collection. Emil W. Lenders (1864-1934) was a German artist who, in the early years of the 20th century, emigrated to Philadelphia. His fascination for the west and Native American cultures led him to work with William Cody's Wild West Show, and he eventually settled in Oklahoma where he spent time sketching wildlife and other western subjects at Miller's 101 Ranch. Over a period of time, he assembled a substantial collection of Plains Indian artifacts, including the shirt belonging to Black Bird that eventually found its way into James Hooper's collection (Fig. 2).

The Sotheby shirt (shown in Fig. 1) had once been in the possession of New York author and socialite Amy Vanderbilt, and was eventually acquired by Chicago-born artist Ed Vebell, and more recently part of the collection of James and Michele Mangan.

Although the two shirts are virtually identical in almost every detail, a much closer examination confirmed that Herr Rietschel is in fact correct. There are several small decorative details that differentiate the two shirts. For example, the lower ends of beaded shoulder strips on the Sotheby shirt feature three small rectangular blocks, whereas the Hooper shirt has none. The ornately beaded radiating roundels are positioned slightly lower on the Sotheby shirt than on the Hooper shirt.

The shirt worn by Black Bird in Fig. 3 is the shirt sold at NY Sotheby's, as shown in Fig. 1; the one worn in Fig. 4 appears to be the Hooper Collection shirt, as shown in Fig. 2.

It is not entirely surprising that multiple versions of the same ceremonial garment are occasionally found to exist. Two or more identical versions of the same article of traditional regalia were sometimes made for use by the same individual. This situation arose either when an original garment wore out, was given away or sold, and a new one was duly made to replace it.

The author would like to thank Hartmut Rietschel for kindly drawing attention to the unwitting confusion over the two separate shirts belonging to Oglala chief Black Bird.


Phelps, Steven. Art and Artifacts of the Pacific, Africa and the Americas: The James Hooper Collection.

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Author:Green, Richard
Publication:Whispering Wind
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jan 1, 2012
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