I once heard someone describe Rapid City, SD as ‘the place where the mountains meet the prairie.’ There’s more to this place than the intersection of the Black Hills and the Great Plains, though — I’m finding that this region is also squarely in the middle of pioneer and Native American culture.
One of the best places to discover Native American heritage in Rapid City is Prairie Edge Trading Company and Galleries. Located in a historic building in the heart of downtown, this company preserves the tradition of the Indian trading post, while also presenting breathtaking fine art that communicates the Native American spirit.
When I first entered, the establishment seemed like a simple western-themed gift shop. But after exploring for a few minutes, I discovered the trading post area, where artists and others can still buy traditional materials such as buffalo hides, deer antlers, feathers and glass beads. Many area artisans come here to get their supplies for their fine art and tradition Indian crafts, many of which can be seen in the store’s galleries.
Around the corner from the gift shop area, a large room holds hundreds of pieces of traditional Indian art, much of which featured intricate bead patterns and quillwork. Items range from dream catchers to spirit shirts, decorated bison skulls and woodcarvings. All of the artwork in the store is hand-made, much of it by artists who use traditional materials and techniques.
On a mezzanine overlooking this room, Prairie Edge displays what they bill as the world’s largest collection of glass trading beads. Hundreds of jars of beads line the shelves of this exhibit, organized by color and glimmering like a glass rainbow beneath the display lights.
For me, the highlihgt of Praire’s Edge was the fine art gallery on the top floor. This area features incredible museum-quality artwork depicting Native American themes and other images of the mountain Northwest. I was fascinated by a large, three-dimensional dioramama made entirely of sculpted paper; I also fell in love with ledger art, a style of painting taken up by tribesmen who used old business ledgers as a canvas once buffalo hides became scarce. The bold and colorful images seemed to leap off the page, contrasting against the straight lines and careful script of the ledgers. Like the rest of Prairie Edge and much of South Dakota, the artwork embodied the intermingling of white culture and Native American heritage.
Hand-made buffalo robe art featuring Native American materials and patterns.
Some of the thousands of glass trading beads on display at Prairie Edge.
An array of specialty beads prized by Indian artists.