Winter Count Images: Knowledge Keeping with Integrity

By Sarah Elisabeth Sawyer (Choctaw Nation), Artist in Business Leadership Fellow 2015





Sheldon Headshot.jpeg

Sheldon Raymore (Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe) is a storyteller, second-generation tipi maker, visual artist, actor, choreographer, cultural consultant, count keeper, and an award-winning grass dancer.

He starred in ABC’s Born to Explore with Richard Weiss “Legend of Dance” where he was the featured grass dancer at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian. Sheldon was awarded the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council Community Arts Fund “2015 Performance Art” Grant. He is a 2019 First Peoples Fund Cultural Capital fellow and resides in Brooklyn, New York.





In Sheldon’s Lakota culture, Winter Count images record and preserve the history of passing years. Traditionally spread out across an animal hide, each year is represented by an image, typically one that reflects the most significant event of that year. They are a pictorial accounting of past happenings, serving as a kind of “history book.”

A previous Winter Count project Sheldon worked on. Title: Apollo Winter Count - American Indian Community House. Medium: Visual Art/Performance Art. Date Completed: World AIDS Day, December 1st, 2015. Performed at: Apollo Theater, Harlem, New York

A previous Winter Count project Sheldon worked on. Title: Apollo Winter Count - American Indian Community House. Medium: Visual Art/Performance Art. Date Completed: World AIDS Day, December 1st, 2015. Performed at: Apollo Theater, Harlem, New York

With his 2019 Cultural Capital fellowship, Sheldon will be working with elders, youth, and other community members to create “Waniyetu Wowapi” (Winter Count) images for the 50th anniversary of the American Indian Community House (AICH) in New York City. The project will preserve the last 50 years of history for urban Indian people in the area.

“We’re fortunate to have many of the elders from the past 50 years still with us,” Sheldon says. “Their generosity in sharing their stories and narratives will preserve the integrity of the project.”

The AICH 50 Winters project won’t be Sheldon’s first winter count project. He has participated in others (such as the project pictured right) in an effort to build awareness about important stories from the past that can help inform This particular practice is one to which he feels deeply connected.

“The hand drawn technique of creating a pattern for the image, painting, cutting of patterns, stretching of leather hide, erection of tipi's, and storytelling while working return me to a world of the grandmothers and grandfathers,” he says. “It's a connection to my father who taught me, and a connection to my elders who've kept the traditions of storytelling.”

Sheldon is welcoming community members to join the 50 Winters project so they can work on it together. Bringing in youth for the project allows them to witness the importance of knowledge keeping as they work to create initial images for the project.

Throughout the process, Sheldon is going to be documenting the project through video, capturing not only the details of the process but also the stories behind the images that are representing the last fifty years. The videos Sheldon is producing will be for sharing with the AICH community and beyond through online platforms like YouTube.

Sheldon with the dress he designed that was worn by Jana Mashonee at the 2007 GRAMMY Awards.

Sheldon with the dress he designed that was worn by Jana Mashonee at the 2007 GRAMMY Awards.

As a multi-disciplinary artist, Sheldon has often incorporated numerous artistic mediums for a project. Sheldon has learned to make time and space for a wide range art forms, ranging from fashion design to acting, beadwork to filmmaking, traveling installations to traditional instrument design. Through every medium, he is committed to honoring his Indigeneity.

Sheldon continues to develop other innovative ways to merge the old with the new, while maintaining the integrity of ancestral knowledge and traditions.

Sheldon performing during the Opening Night of”Ajijaak on Turtle Island” at Studebaker Theater in Chicago. Photo by Philamonjaro.

Sheldon performing during the Opening Night of”Ajijaak on Turtle Island” at Studebaker Theater in Chicago. Photo by Philamonjaro.

“I use a sense of smell to invoke the ancestral connection especially when painting on traditional brain tanned hides or smoked hides,” Sheldon says. “At the same time, creating these pictorial images of modern-day events with the soundscapes of cars, planes, boats, skyscrapers, and people of the urban reality in the background, allows participants to revive a tradition their ancestors might have done.”

The 50 Winters Count project will not only preserve the past fifty years of urban intertribal Indian life in New York City, but will also give the city’s urban Indian population a way to dream of what images could be created in the next fifty years for future generations to remember.

Want to learn more about Sheldon? Visit his website at: https://sheldonraymore.com/