Norma Baker Flying Horse is one of the most recognized appliqué designers of the Northern Plains that has represented a tradition that spans back centuries.
An enrolled member of the Hidatsa Tribe from the Three Affiliated Tribes in North Dakota as well as the Dakota Sioux Tribe and Assiniboine Tribe, Norma Baker Flying Horse is taking the Powwow Trail and Indian Country by storm with her unique and stunning regalia. Norma’s work is regularly seen at powwows and some of the most prestigious events throughout Indian Country.
With the arrival of European culture came a wide variety of goods to Native people unseen before, creating an tremendous value and curiosity for many American Indian people. Many items and their associated purpose were often adopted, adapted, and many situations improved by American Indian people. Such is the case with silk ribbons, which were used by many Northern tribes to create a form of appliqué decoration and design not seen before, even among European cultures.
Ribbonwork appliqué spans back to the late 1700’s, with the craft quickly dying out in the early 1900s, like many other aspects of American Indian culture, due to the dislocation of many tribes from their traditional homelands and ways of life. And like ceremony, language, and song, appliqué technique was not practiced openly by groups – it was only done by a few individuals, hidden and kept secret.
Encouraged at any early age by members of her family, Norma was taught to bead and sew and has carried on her teachings in many aspects to many people. She was taught by her grandmother Beverly Walking Eagle-Baker to bead and has made many of her community’s beadwork over the years. Norma was taught the basics of sewing at the age of 15 by her mother Roberta Baker. Her younger brother Caleb Baker introduced her to appliqué work that is well recognized among Northern tribes and she has continued to build on and brand her own style of appliqué that is renowned throughout the country and beyond.
Due to government interest in native art in the early 1900s, federal agents began to collect information about the traditional production of appliqué among the tribes that originally produced it. Museums throughout the country also began to display early examples of appliqué. By the 1970s, the same time as a native cultural resurgence and Indian activism, appliqué was again being produced by various Prairie and Plains tribes.
Envisioning the wear and attire of Native culture both past and present, Norma has created an image and demand for her renowned appliqué wear making her renowned as a Native American fashion designer. Her work has been showcased by former Miss Indian World Cheyenne Brady and personalities we are all familiar with on the Powwow Trail.
Incorporating a variety of traditional designs as well as her own ideas, she is taking appliqué to another level, making it sought after and recognized by many. She continues to surprise her clients with her creativity and attention to detail and is only improving her craft making each item a living piece of artwork.
When asked how Norma feels about her work, she shares, “If I know people are wearing my work with pride, it makes me happy. It makes my effort, my work worth it. It makes me want to improve and take my craft to another level.”
And ever humble, Normal continues, “Just seeing my work being worn and requested by people from all corners of Indian Country has me in shock. The response I’m getting, the love I’m receiving on social media, is ‘awesome’! It doesn’t even feel it’s happening to me.”
Norma shared she eventually wants to start and manage a business focused on her clothing and art – to share with the world.
“I want to take my art to the world, so everyone can enjoy,” expressed Norma. “Each piece is exclusive, and that is valuable to me. I want to keep my items that way. So taking it to another level is challenging considering each piece is unique. I want my work to be incorporated to every day wear, but still maintain my touch of my heritage.”
Her future is bright and is growing. You can support her journey by following her on social media and visiting with her on the Powwow Trail!
Darren Thompson (Ojibwe/Tohono O’odham) is a Native American flute player and educator from the Lac du Flambeau Ojibwe Reservation in Northern Wisconsin. A frequent performer and public speaker, he is one of Crazy Horse Memorial's main performers and the opening act of Brulé's summer concert series in the Black Hills. His commentary on American Indian cultural identity as well as his reviews of his music has been included in Indian Country Today, the Native Sun News, News from Indian Country, The Examiner, the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel and numerous other media. For more information please visit www.darrenthompson.net