Robes of Splendor

aka: Robes of the Three Villages
aka: Three Villages Robe
aka: Buffalo Dancers Robe

The “Robes of Splendor” are a pair of mid-eighteenth-century animal-hide robes believed to have been painted by a Quapaw artist and given to French colonists. The Three Villages Robe is believed to depict the French settlement at Arkansas Post and a battle scene between two groups of Native Americans, while the Buffalo Dancers Robe includes what appears to be a Quapaw ceremony. Originally in the Musee de l’Homme in Paris, France, they were later moved to the Musee du quai Branly-Jacques Chirac, also in Paris.

The Three Villages Robe, according to the authors of Arkansas Made, “depicts several scenes that include a representation of the eighteenth-century Quapaw villages that were situated on the lower Arkansas River and a European-style settlement believed to be Arkansas Post.” One side of the skin shows the names of three known Quapaw villages (Ouzovtovovi, Tovarimon, and Ovoappa) and the word “Ackansas” above three clusters of dwellings, while another part of the robe shows a group of four European-style buildings; “tucked between those dwellings are tiny graffiti-style figures smoking long-stemmed pipes.”

The other side of the skin shows two groups of people firing rifles and shooting arrows at each other, which author Morris S. Arnold interpreted as Quapaw warriors driving off attacking Chickasaw. Feathered calumets and depictions of the sun and moon are also included on the robe, of which Arkansas Made stated: “While we don’t know if the artist was Quapaw, a member of the Illinois or some other tribe, or a mixed Quapaw-French resident with knowledge of traditional hide-painting techniques, the robe is a unique Arkansas Made object.”

The Buffalo Dancers Robe includes “a line of figures that process on two legs while wearing bison costumes and carrying lances” and another figure aiming a rifle at a deer, in addition to wading birds, horses, and a bear and two cubs. “The painting may be a remembrance of an important ceremonial event that took place at an Arkansas Quapaw village, or it may evoke the complex relationship between Quapaws and bisons at this period in Quapaw history,” according to Arkansas Made.

The two robes, then located at the Musee de l’Homme in Paris, were displayed in an exhibition at the Arkansas Territorial Restoration (now the Historic Arkansas Museum) from January 19 to May 31, 1995. While French museum officials were initially reluctant to loan the fragile hides for the exhibit, they ultimately decided to let the Territorial Restoration show them because of the Quapaw’s ties to Arkansas.

The robes remained at the Musee de l’Homme until 2006, when the ethnographic collections of that museum and of the Musee National des Arts d’Afrique et d’Oceanie were consolidated at the Musee du quai Branly-Jacques Chirac.

For additional information:
Arnold, Morris S. The Rumble of a Distant Drum: The Quapaws and Old World Newcomers, 1673–1803. Fayetteville: University of Arkansas Press, 2000.

Bennett, Swannee, and William B. Worthen. Arkansas Made: A Survey of the Decorative, Mechanical, and Fine Arts Produced in Arkansas through 1950. 2nd ed., Col. 1, Fayetteville: University of Arkansas Press, 2021.

Brandon, Phyllis. “Arkansans, Quapaws Welcome Robes to LR.” Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, January 29, 1995, p. 3, Section 3.

Martin, Karen. “Treasures Come Home.” Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, January 20, 1995, p. 2B.

Reinolds, Chris. “Quapaw Robes Uncloak 200-Year-Old Secrets.” Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, January 19, 1995, pp. 1B, 7B.

Sauvage, Alexandra. “Narratives of Colonisation: The Musee du quai Branly in Context.” reCollections 2 (September 2007). https://recollections.nma.gov.au/issues/vol_2_no2/papers/narratives_of_colonisation (accessed May 25, 2022).

Mark K. Christ
Central Arkansas Library System

Last Updated: 05/26/2022