This is an outstanding set of beaded cradle boards, a full size and child’s size, by renowned Kiowa artist, Vanessa Paukeigope Jennings. Vanessa (Nesha) Paukeigope Jennings (Kiowa, born 1952) is recognized as the last cradleboard maker among her Kiowa people and one of the few artists who still brain-tans her own hides. Vanessa, an enrolled Kiowa tribal elder, was awarded the National Heritage Fellowship in 1989 by The National Endowment for the Arts, a lifetime honor presented to master folk and traditional artists and is the United States’ highest honor in the folk and traditional arts. This award automatically qualifies her as a Living National Treasure by the U.S. Congress and the President. Her cradleboards are on display at several museums around the country including the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian, Museum of the Red River, National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum, Plains Indian Museum at the Buffalo Bill Center of the West, amongst others as well as has won numerous awards at several Native American shows including the prestigious Indian Market. Due to health considerations, she is no longer making cradleboards.
The Kiowa tradition is to make two cradleboards for the newborn child, one cradleboard for the baby and one cradleboard for the baby’s doll. This offering is truly unique and is the only matched pair Jennings has made and it truly reflects the Kiowa tradition. Almost exclusively the cradleboards offered on the public market are either the baby or doll example but almost never the two matched pair together by the same artist, making this truly a once in a lifetime opportunity. The artist has verified that these are the only cradleboards that she has made in the true Kiowa tradition. In the certified signed letter and correspondence directly from the artist, she verifies this cradleboard as being her best work.
As per the artist the set are made from hand-carved hardwood frames with rawhide in the hood and foot of each cradleboard. They are beaded with green cut-beads from Czechoslovakia with the balance of the background made up using other antique and modern cut beads and seed beads, all being glass. Buckskin from a deer, that is Indian brain-tanned by herself, is on the front cover with a single buckskin lacing string to close. The side shows larger old wound glass pony trade beads with white hearts as well as original Plains Indian nickel silver pieces and rosary beads. The 2017 signed and notarized certificate directly from the artist gives the item a value of $100,000. The original correspondence with the artist dates to 2004, likely when the set was crafted.
Cradleboards by Vanessa Jennings are very uncommon with most being in large museum collections. A very similar example of the larger baby cradleboard is the example in the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian showing similar manufacture and pattern, this example was purchased from the artist in 2012 (notable fact, they refer to the artist as Vanessa Paukeigope Jennings, Kiowa/Akimel O'odham (Pima), b. 1952 being from Fort Cobb; Caddo County; Oklahoma; USA). Vanessa Jennings is also considered to be one of the most notable experts on Kiowa cradles; she was asked to identify the Kiowa cradleboard from the George Shaw, Hugh and Gay Eaton collections and is noted in the description in the Sotheby’s Auction listing; the cradle sold for $167,000 in Lot 14 Sotheby’s New York May 2015. This example is likely the finest traditional Kiowa set of beaded cradleboards ever created and offered to the public market. The larger example measures43 1/2 inches by 14 1/2 inches by 11 1/2 inches. The smaller cradle measures 20 inches by 7 inches. For reference another cradleboard by the Comanche sold for $145,000 in a 2018 auction in Lawton, Oklahoma.