Tracing History | North America

08 February 2024

This shield was probably once owned by a warrior from a tribe of the Plains and Plateau area of western North America. The emblazoned shield naturally held great significance and spiritual power, notably courage.

Lot 597 | 19-21 February Antiques & Interiors
Lot 597 | 19-21 February Antiques & Interiors

This was a highly valued asset in the 19th Century among the tribes people, particularly during the second half, when bitter wars embroiled Native communities as they fought against US usurpation. Generally, there were two types of shield: one to be used as a protective force in physical war, a war shield and the other for spiritual protection, called a medicine shield. This shield is possibly a war shield given the thickness of the surface and made from tough buffalo neck hide. It may be that this warrior also carried a (thinner) medicine shield with the same or similar markings. The warrior, who was also an adept horseman, would typically ride out with two ponies in a small group or War Party, bearing these two shields. These shields are vividly painted with specific potent symbols, in this instance an antelope, which was determined through a process of communication between the warrior and the ‘Above World’. The warrior’s induced vision or hallucinations were realised through a ritual overseen by the tribe’s Holy Man or Shaman, which entailed days in and out of a sweat lodge combined with fasting. Their vision was then painted on the shield’s surface, in this case of an antelope, and some remains were attached to the shield as an amulet, which explains the antelope foot on this particular shield.

This shield is lot 579 in our next Works of Art Interiors sale, and among a small collection of other fascinating objects from Native / Indigenous American Cultures.