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Label, Nedra Matteucci Galleries, Santa Fe, NM

Historian Virginia Couse Leavitt writes, “Couse was a great admirer of the Indian as an artist. In The Tobacco Bag he shows his Native American model working on the fringed end of a large beaded bag. Beadwork is also featured in this painting in the headband, armband, and moccasins worn by the model. Couse’s model was Ben Lujan, from Taos Pueblo, although the artifacts come from other cultures. The painting is about artistry not about ethnography.

“Over the years, Couse made a large collection of beadwork, pottery, and other Native American artifacts that he used extensively as props in his paintings. Most of his collection still exists in his studio at The Couse Foundation in Taos, although the bag pictured in this painting is unfortunately no longer in the collection.

“The bag was large enough to accommodate a full, disassembled pipe, and would therefore more accurately be called a ‘pipe bag.’ Tobacco bags are normally small pouches meant only to hold tobacco, although the two terms are often used interchangeably. Chelsea Herr, PhD Candidate in Native American Art at the University of Oklahoma, has helped identify this bag as Northern Plains, most likely Lakota or Dakota. She interprets the beadwork as a medicine lodge design, which makes sense because of the connection between tobacco and medicine.

“Fire is a symbol of cleansing and renewal, and smoke, which can be created in a pipe, carries prayers to the Great Spirit. It is appropriate therefore that Couse made his painting a firelight scene.”

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