They could number in the hundreds, the adornments on a Lakota woman’s elk tooth dress. Beginning at the neck, and added piecemeal after every kill, the elk teeth (known as ivories) could potentially cover the entire dress, in time. The more teeth, the greater the status of the wearer. “Whenever your dress is completely filled, that really symbolized wealth, not just in the culture, but within your family,” said artist Mikayla Patton, who uses images of elk teeth as a motif in her works on paper. “It was about having support, being able to be fed, clothed, and about being really resilient. I used that as a personal thing, of me being resilient and finding my own wealth within myself and my culture.”
Patton, who’s in her 20s, is a recent graduate of the Institute of American Indian Arts (IAIA). She earned her bachelor’s degree in studio arts in May. Now the Lakota artist, who grew up on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota, is taking part in Native Visions, the annual Native group show at Chiaroscuro Contemporary Art. The event opens on Friday, Aug. 16, and is timed to coincide with Indian Market weekend (Saturday and Sunday, Aug. 17 and 18, on the Santa Fe Plaza).