In the summer of 2008, Leigh and I had the ultimate privilege to attend our first dance Pow Wow in Cody. It was held and sponsored by the Buffalo Bill Historical Center.
The Grass Dance style is a very old dance rich in history that has become very popular. In the old days, it was the job of the grass dancers to flatten the grass in the arena before a Pow Wow. The name grass does not come from the stomping of grass, but it comes from the old habit of tying braids of sweet grass to the dancer’s belts, producing a swaying effect. Today, Grass Dancers resemble a multicolored swaying mass of yarn or fringe on the dance floor. The Grass Dance is a very fluid and bendable style, with the dancers trying to move their fringe in as many places as possible at once. The Grass Dance style was born in the North, but its popularity has spread South, and now this beautiful style is available for everyone.
The regalia of a Grass Dancer is very different from most other styles. The head gear is much the same: roach, spreader, and maybe a beaded headband. One primary difference in Grass dancers is the optional antennas, which are long, thin wires with fluffs attached to the end that protrude from the spreader in the place of roach feathers. Most dancers today wear fringed capes that are edged with lots of yarn or chainette fringe. Multicolored designs in the yarn are popular, but all white with colored highlights is becoming popular. A matching apron to the cape is worn to cover the waist, and usually fringed side tabs are worn as well. Instead of leather leggings, most Grass Dancers will wear a pair of jogging pants that have been modified with fringe just below the knees. The bells are worn just below the ankles above the moccasins.
Leigh took many photographs of the dancers. My first subject from that year’s Pow Wow is this fine, fine young man, grass dancer, Waycie Roundstone. Waycie was 26 years of age. He is full-blooded Northern Cheyenne from Lame Deer, Montana. Even though Waycie is a dancer, after going through the many photographs of Waycie, I could not pass up this fantastic head study that Leigh captured. One does not have to look straight into this young man’s eyes to see the intensity of his soul!
Here is day one. This is all my pencil lines drawn in and roughing in the background on my usual Ampersand museum-grade Masonite.
I have started this piece a little different, in the fact that I laid in the background first. There is just so much horse hair on his head that it had to be done this way. Something else a little different for me is the size. Most people’s heads are roughly 9.5″ to 10″. The overall size of the painting is 16″ x 20″, but Waycie’s head in my painting is life-size and a half, roughly 13″ tall! Most of my subject’s heads are rendered not much bigger then 3″ to 4″ tall. No room for error here! Every detail must be there or I feel I have failed.
This is day two. I have roughed in his face, hair and red bandana.
Day three. I have roughed in his horse hair head dress.
Here is day four. You can see that I worked on Waycie’s facial tones. The rest of the day was used to lay in the rough bead work. Still many beads and highlights on those beads to go!
I have finalized all his bead work. The beads are actually a little bigger than a 1/6″, bigger than they appear. I did find a great way to paint the beads. I paint a light brown outline around each bead. I then take another brush that slightly larger the the hole for the bead, as I lay in the stroke of color for the actual bead, the “wet” brown blends around the outer edge of the bead. This gives each bead a slight rounded effect. The last steps are painting in his rainbow-colored shirt and put the finishing touches to the background.
Here are two close-ups, one of the bead work area and the his chrome beaded, bone necklace.
Thanks for looking! Stay tuned, there are many more of my works in progress to come.