According to legends, all of the designs that appeared on tipis were given to their first human owners in dreams or visions. In these, the original animal owner of the lodge appeared to the sleeper and promised to give him his own painted lodge which was the source of his supernatural powers.
The painted area around the bottom of the tipi cover is referred to as the Bottom Skirt. Bottom skirt designs utilized motifs that symbolized the earth’s surface. This paid spiritual tribute to the importance of Mother Earth as the source of all physical life. Conversely, the painted tops of tipis represented the upper limit of the physical world and therefore symbolized Father Sky. All human events were contained between these two boundaries – Mother Earth below and Father Sky above. Thus the events of humans, animals, birds, etc. were depicted around the sides or middle of the tipi between these upper and lower boundaries.
The various top and skirt designs that we offer have been derived from painted tipis of these Plains tribes: Assiniboine, Blackfoot, Cheyenne, Cree, Crow, Kiowa-Apache, Nez Perce, Piegan and Sioux.
A very unique and unsuspected aspect of a painted tipi is the beautiful stained glass effect that you experience when you are inside.
The soaring vertical architecture of the tipi poles can be systematically intersected by gracefully curving bands of geometric color. This creates a prismatic canopy of light that has the magnificent radiance and symmetrical beauty of ancient cathedral elegance and quiet monastic inspiration.
Additionally, this organic beauty can be enhanced by the presence of nature spirits painted on the tipi cover just above the liner. Backlit with sunlight they appear suspended in space, slowly gliding by and encircling the tipi with the quiet presence of their peaceful spirit.
Although different tribes would sometimes use very similar designs, the exact style and symbolic interpretation of a design would be unique to the tipi owner. These traditional designs were used exclusively on tipis. We encourage you to consider the beauty and historical importance of preserving these designs. Reproducing these designs on actual tipis is the best way to ensure that this traditional fresco art form will not be lost.
Please feel free to mix and match any combinations of design that you would like. We can also do any custom or unique artwork that you might like to have on your tipi cover, liner or door.