Best Practices

Cradleboards, Dolls and Stories…

Curriculum Enrichment Program in Bozeman-Area Schools
Sponsored by Yellowstone National Art Trust


Birdie Real Bird and C.T. Walks Over Ice
Traditional Crow Dollmakers, Hardin, Montana
Maggie Carlson, Contemporary Artist, Bozeman, Montana

Program Specifics:

doll made by Birdie Real Bird

In October 2002, Birdie Real Bird and C.T. Walks Over Ice, Crow tribal members and traditional dollmakers visited four Bozeman elementary schools to share their art form and their culture with fourth grade classes. The program was designed to expose students of Montana history to ancient Crow Indian lifeways and to engender respect for Native American culture. Maggie Carlson, a Bozeman contemporary artist, assisted Real Bird and Walks Over Ice with teaching and materials.

The artists worked with separate classes of approximately 25 students each for 1.5 hours. They explained the history and function of cradleboards and cloth dolls in Crow society, and demonstrated how to make them using traditional natural materials such as buffalo hair. The artists used Crow stories to further illustrate the purpose of these art forms and shared typical greetings in the Crow language. Students identified the location of the Crow Reservation and Yellowstone National Park on a map. The artists and students explored typical design themes and the importance and symbolism of color and pattern. Each child then created a simple cardboard cradleboard decorated with an individual design and fastened with rawhide ties. The children also each fashioned a simple cloth doll designed with features to give it personality. The dolls were made to fit into the cradleboards.

Two days of visits culminated in a community gathering at the Bozeman Public Library where the children’s dolls were displayed with museum quality dolls from the Crow reservation.

This program was coordinated by Yellowstone National Art Trust and funded with a grant from t he Sweet Pea Festival and support from Custer Battlefield Trading Post and the Indian Uprising Gallery. Yellowstone National Art Trust is a nonprofit organization that provides public access to cultural and aesthetic experiences that reflect the nature of Yellowstone National Park. They also organized similar programs in the Gardiner, Mammoth, West Yellowstone and Big Sky schools which were supported with help from the Montana Arts Council.

Cradleboard by Otto Stefan-Wallace, Hawthorne School

Birdie Real Bird’s dolls are in the collection of the Smithsonian Museum. In addition to making dolls and touring in the schools, she is a middle school counselor in the Hardin Public School system.

CT Walks Over Ice is a Crow dancer and artist. In addition to traditional dolls, he makes replicas of pow wow dancers and buckskin paintings.

Maggie Carlson is a contemporary artist and art teacher in Bozeman. She also taught art in the public schools on the Crow Indian Reservation. More than 50 exhibits of her work have appeared throughout the country.

Program Outcomes:

As a result of these lessons, students were able to explain the significance of cradleboards and dolls to Crow culture, and their utilitarian functions in Crow life. They were able to make geographic connections between the Crow, Yellowstone Park and their own community. Students identified ways in which symbols, imagery, and color are significant to functional objects made by the Crow, and were able to utilize traditional natural materials in combination with ordinary school room supplies to make their own cradleboards and dolls.

Fourth Grade Content Standards

This lesson helped satisfy the following Montana content standards and specific benchmarks:

  • Art: 1.4.1-5; 2.4.1-6; 3.4.1-5; 5.4.1-6; 6.4.2, 6.4.3, 6.4.4
  • Social Studies: 3.4.1, 3.4.3, 3.4.7; 4.4.1, 4.4.3, 4.4.7; 6.4.1, 6.4.2, 6.4.3, 6.4.4
  • Speaking and Listening: 2.4.1, 2.4.2; 3.4.6
  • Library Media: 3.4.1, 3.4.2
  • World Languages: 4.4.1-4; 6.4.2; 8.4.1


Birdie Real Bird at Irving School

“[Birdie Real Bird] uses her lifetime experiences to help all cultures understand the past, present, and future by bridging the cultural gap that stills exists today. She does this through creative story telling, bringing to life the history of the northern plains. She also is a master creator of authentic Crow dolls and incorporates them into her story telling.”

Albert Peterson, Superintendent
Hardin Public Schools

“Mrs. Birdie Real Bird and Mr. C.T. Walks Over Ice, the resident artists, did a truly magnificent job. Not only are they artists, but they are clearly teachers who can effectively instruct elementary age students in complex skills and sophisticated concepts… I must emphasize that the residency itself was much more than just a series of art projects. Its focus on contemporary and historical Indian culture struck a positive chord in all of us.”

Dr. James Bruggeman, Principal
Irving School, Bozeman

“It was wonderful to learn about Native American life and it heightened the children’s awareness to similarities and differences between Native American culture and our own.”

Trina Fortney, Longfellow Art Parent
Longfellow School, Bozeman

“Our students have very little first-hand knowledge about Native American heritage. Most of our students come from states which do not have Native Americans at all. This presentation was so much more valuable than reading about it from a book or watching a video.”

Patricia J. Ingraham, Ed.D, Principal/Superintendent
Ophir School District #72, Gallatin Gateway

“Students were entranced with the stories surrounding the dolls and the lives of the doll makers themselves. In addition, students had chances to interact with Birdie and C.T. about the patterns and how these differ from tribe to tribe, marvel at the intricacy of their beadwork, and ask lots of questions. It was wonderfully engaging to the students and inspirational to those of us adults who watched.”

Cheryl N. Johannes, Superintendent/Principal
Anderson School, Bozeman

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