Three male dancers from Wyoming Indian High School whirled and stepped to the rhythm of a pounding drum.
Keegan Her Many Horses struck a strong pose as the beat stopped and then moved again with the increasing tempo. He wore two feathered bustles, regalia that can weigh between 10 and 15 pounds, and a porcupine quill and feather headdress.
The high school junior jumped into a crouch before springing upright as the men’s fancy dance came to a close Wednesday at the National Historic Trails Interpretative Center. He and 10 other members of the Wolf Dancers of Wyoming Indian High School celebrated the last day of an exhibit coordinated by art teacher Cleve Bell and his students.
“It means a lot, being able to present my work,” Junior Derek Aragon said.
He sculpted a clay eagle, with three feathers attached, for the "Resurgence of Native Spirit” exhibit at the trails center. The students’ 20 prints and 30 ceramic sculptures were displayed at the center from June 1 to Sept. 4.
Alex Rose, an interpreter at the trails center who co-curated the exhibit with Bell, said it was the second time the museum featured Wyoming Indian student artwork.
“It’s a celebration of Native American traditional arts,” he said. “We have the artwork inside, the sculptures and the prints, and then we have the dancing and the drumming.”
The art was for sale through the National Historic Trails Center Foundation, and students kept 90 percent of the profit. The other 10 percent benefited the foundation. Rose said about 54 percent of the exhibit, equal to about $3,000 of artwork, sold during the past three months.
Torri Cowboy found buyers for her sculpture and print. She said the idea for her sculpture, “Sorrow with tear,” came from a magazine, but she thought she could do better.
“I kind of put my emotions into it every day I worked on it,” she said.
Cowboy said the corn in her print reflects her Navajo heritage. Her uncle, who was also an artist, inspired her to create, and Cowboy said she enjoyed putting her work on display.
Sandi Iron Cloud, a teacher at Wyoming Indian, said seeing the students express themselves through art or the traditional dances of Northern Plains Indian tribes reassured her that language and cultural revitalization efforts will continue.
“They come from very traditional families, and seeing them take pride in not only their artwork but their dancing, it instills a sense of pride in me,” she said. “Not only as a teacher, but as a grandparent and as a mother.”
Iron Cloud provided historical context for the audience on Wednesday and said the performances do more than entertain. The dance troupe aims to educate others about the American Indian culture and dispel any negative stereotypes through song and dance.
The performances Wednesday covered everything from the men’s fancy dance, which was a crowd-pleaser at Buffalo Bill Cody’s “Wild West” shows, to more traditional men’s and women’s dances meant to honor village warriors or promote wellness. Iron Cloud said the regalia, often handmade or passed down through the generations, is as varied as the dances.
“Not only is it part of our heritage and our history and our culture, but it’s art in itself,” she said.