Collected at Rio Grande, N.M., probably near Santa Fe. Sewn leather pieces worked into a relief head, and cord like arms, and hands. The figure is painted in a dark blue at top as well as red with three white (negative) stirpes. A halo or aura in yellow surrounds the figure.
This figure appears to be a Virgin Mary figure.
Missionary priests who proselytized among Indians in what is now New Mexico frequently instructed local craftsman to render images of figures important to Catholic teachings. The mission where this painting was created was miles from the Gulf of Mexico, where imported canvases would have been prohibitively expensive and in short supply. Missionary priests worked out a compromise with their Indian laborers, increasingly relying on their skill in rendering animal skins into a workable substitute for scarce European canvases.
According to Mrs. E. Boyd, former curator of the Museum of New Mexico, who examined this piece for possible transfer to the National Museum of History and Technology (now American History): "By the time the Franciscan missionaries were being withdrawn from New Mexico and replaced by Mexican secular clergy, the visiting bishops from Durango, Mexico, the seat of the diocese, repeatedly ordered the removal of sacred images painted on animal skins as not suitable." Following passage of the 1848 Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, which transferred New Mexico to the United States, canvas was more readily available and buffalo herds were dwindling. By the close of 19th century, the buffalo was becoming the unofficial emblem of the United States, as prominent as the eagle in American symbolic imagery.