Plains Indian Shield 382 by Andy Warhol is one of ten screenprints in his Cowboys and Indians portfolio. An additional four trial proofs were excluded from the final suite: War Bonnet Indian 373, Buffalo Nickel 374, Action Picture 375, and Sitting Bull 376 or A70.
As a child of the 1930s and 40s, Warhol grew up in the era of Western stars such as the Lone Ranger, Roy Rogers, Hopalong Cassidy, and John Wayne. In his youth, he was fascinated by the romance of the West created by the movies; in adulthood, he remained intrigued by the genre, and Western aesthetics influenced much of his artwork. Aside from the Cowboys and Indians portfolio, Warhol demonstrated his enduring interest in Americana themes with his Myths series, his Elvis Presley paintings, and in films like Horse (1965), and Lonesome Cowboys (1968).
In the Cowboys and Indians portfolio, Warhol illustrates the clash between settlers and Native Americans with five prints representing the “Cowboys” and five representing the “Indians.” The symmetry of the portfolio presents the West as a setting of conflict and positions each print as an opponent. Warhol presents, in short, a theatrical version of the West; he has little interest in creating a historically accurate representation of the frontier days. Instead, Warhol attempts to mirror our imaginations of the West found in popular culture and media.
In Plains Indian Shield 382, Warhol depicts his own version of a traditional Native American shield. These shields were common among Great Plains tribes. Typically, indigenous groups made the shields from buffalo hides stretched over handmade wooden hoops. They were often adorned with feathers and illustrated with paintings of animals and geometric shapes. The shields served both practical and spiritual purposes.
Warhol visited New York City’s National Museum of the American Indian to photograph Native American artifacts for the Native-inspired prints in the Cowboys and Indians portfolio. These photographs were the basis of the Plains Indian Shield, the Northwest Coast Mask , and the Kachina Dolls.
In Plains Indian Shield 382, Warhol sketches the shield in a muted pop color palette of mustard, teal, and orange. He outlines the details in both black and white, giving the print a three-dimensional quality. His shield design features two buffalos facing each other with their heads meeting in the center of the circle. There is also an illustration of a bright orange feather hanging off of the shield.
With Plains Indian Shield 382, Warhol portrays a symbol of Native American culture in the style of the commercialized version of the West. Warhol contrasts the authentic and cinematic, and as a result, provides a striking look at the portrayal of Native American culture in popular media.
Photo credit: Shield with Cover, Penn Museum, Pan-American Exposition; Wanamaker Expedition / R. Stewart Culin, 1901.