Jump to Navigation

Kiowa - Painters of the Plains

Painting was a significant part of Kiowa culture and was used to adorn and give greater meaning to many objects. One of the best examples of the tribe’s painting was pictorial calendars. On bison skins, tribal members made calendars formed from a series of pictorial symbols or glyphs. Each year was divided into winter and summer. Each season had one image that represented an event. Not all of the pictures depicted the most important event that year; sometimes the images were more personal to their creators than to the tribe as a whole. Summer events were marked by the incorporation of a symbol representing the sacred lodge where the Sun Dance was held each summer. Winter events were distinguished by a black bar that symbolized the dead grass of winter. The calendar had a temporally sequenced spiral configuration that terminated at the center of the hide.

Paint was strongly associated with hunting and war. Paint was used to decorate the medicine shields that were carried into battles or raids. Warriors also painted their tipis. The most simple tipi paintings were designed to match the paint of the warrior’s shield. An honored warrior would paint depictions of his exploits and honors from battles, raids, or hunts. The most prominent families eventually developed designs that became identified with their families. After several generations, such family paintings served the same purpose as a coat of arms.

A Kiowa woman pictured during the 1870s at Fort Sill.Women’s Work

Although men painted the tipis, women constructed them. Women tanned and treated bison hides. Once they had enough, they cut the hides and assembled them using sinew. Tipis could be as large as 20 feet across and could take more than 30 bison skins and up to 20 wood poles. Because the tribe followed the bison, they needed to be highly mobile. Women were responsible for the difficult task of raising, collapsing, and packing the tipis. Women’s work was the strong foundation upon which the Kiowa way of life was balanced.

Find more information about the Kiowa people:

Entry: Kiowa - Painters of the Plains

Author: Kansas Historical Society

Author information: The Kansas Historical Society is a state agency charged with actively safeguarding and sharing the state's history.

Date Created: September 2015

Date Modified: December 2017

The author of this article is solely responsible for its content.