June 04, 1978

Most people agree that the idea in business is to make more money than you did last year. Not Jeb Barton of Bend, Ore., who feels that everyone need not march to the beat of the same tom-tom. He makes tipis (also known as tepees, although Barton says this isn't consistent with the spelling in Indian literature). A tent is an overnight shelter. A tipi is a home.

Barton, 33. loves tipi life. He has lived in one at the base of the Cascades for two years and insists. "It's really enjoyable to be awakened in the middle of the night by a hoot owl. I rather look forward to it." His motivation? "Somebody really ought to preserve this fascinating part of Indian culture."

For eight years Nomadics Tipi Makers (17671 Snow Creek Rd., Bend, Ore. 97701) has been turning out 700 tipis of heavy treated canvas a year. They come in six sizes, from a 14-foot-diameter model ($170) to a 26-foot one ($520) and are all based on the same Sioux design. The most popular model is the 18-footer that is suitable for year-round living for two to four people and costs $280. Barton says, "Our business is not to make something for the backyard that people will look at and say, 'Isn't that cute?' We are dealing with an artful living space that should be taken seriously. A tipi is sophisticated yet functional. It's one of the only ways left to really get in touch with nature. You get so you can smell a herd of deer and hear the wind in the birds' feathers."

An Indian named Black Elk is credited with observing, "Everything the power of the world does is done in a circle." The sky is round, so is the earth, likewise the stars; the wind whirls in circles, the sun circles, so does life. He concluded glumly, "Our tipis were round like the nests of birds and these were always set in a circle...but the white men have put us in these square boxes. It is a bad way to live, for there can be no power in a square."

Of course, there can be power in a square (although the Oval Office does come to mind), but the esthetics of a circle are nicer. Women's church groups often are called "circles"; people play rounds of golf.

So life does not go in meaningless circles for Jeb Barton, who seemingly has reduced the sharp corners of life. Each tipi takes about 12 hours to construct (he employs 11 craftsmen), and after a day at work Barton stretches out next to the glow of the circular lire in his tipi and reads. "It's so enjoyable," he says. "There's a sort of magic about it."