DescriptionA POTAWATOMI BEADED AND FRINGED HIDE JACKET
c. 1860 each side with stylized floral designs, stitched in various shades of opaque and translucent glass seed beads, the arms with similar designs arranged on either side of linear zigzag elements, stitched in similar colors of larger glass seed beads, hide fringe overall
The Dr. Jack and Mary Ann Adams Collection
Length: 43 inches
Coats and jackets made by American Indians, but following Euro-American styles, constitute an intriguing blend of the two cultures. Both groups borrowed from each other, but quite early in their mutual association -- with their decidedly creative bent, Indians came up with ideas from the objects and clothing newly available to them. In creating their own versions, Indians gave the objects their distinctive spin using native materials and techniques in part, but incorporated introduced goods as well - beads in particular. In former times, indigenous people below the Sub-Arctic regions produced little in the way of close-fitting clothing, and little of what can be termed true "outer garments." Large animal hides tanned with or without the hair or fur originally served the latter purpose. Later, woolen blankets and shawls obtained in trade with the outside commonly functioned as fundamental outer wear or coats and jackets per se. At varying points in time, different groups started adapting articles of highly tailored clothing that was more practical in form, coats and jackets included. Of course, Indians previously had received ready-made coats in trade and/or as gifts, so they were familiar with the varied styles. Before long they began to make their own versions cut from woolen blankets, as well as ones of native-tanned buckskin -- as in this example. The medium or darker shades of the respective background colors of native-tanned leather resulted either from smoking the leather prior to cutting out the component parts, or by painting the entire surface of the finished garment with powdered pigment after it was assembled-usually yellow or yellow ochre. In the latter case, beadwork was applied first and the paint applied subsequently. Elements new to Indian clothing in the innovative forms of outerwear include collars, lapels, cuffs on the sleeves, and completely open fronts with buttons and buttonholes. However, the latter two features are not present on this example.
Well understood is the fact that many of the very earliest travelers to the New World enterprisingly brought glass beads of diverse sizes to use in trade with and as presents for the inhabitants with whom they'd interact. It is uncertain when Indian artists of the Eastern United States (the first region of repeated, then sustained, contact on the main continent) initially produced beadwork using "pony beads, "pound beads," "seed beads" -- whatever the types and preferred terminology, but surely it was by the last decades of the 1700's. By the middle of the next century, the highly stylized, "curvilinear" beadwork of the Southeastern and, later, Prairie tribes including the Potawatomi, Winnebago, Sauk, Fox, Otoe, Missouria, Ponca, Oto, Ioway, Kaw, and Osage began to develop as an elaborative genre. Although the beadworkers found some ideas for motifs in introduced / non-Indian sources -- such as printed cloth in particular, the roots of the "Prairie" beadwork design corpus are to be found in pre-contact sources such as incised shell and pottery, designs scraped on birchbark, porcupine quill embroidery, and even pre-contact fabrics of native manufacture. Since its onset the "appliqué" or "two-needle" technique continues to today in as the most appropriate and efficient technique to execute the graceful designs encompassed by this genre of beadwork. Basically, one thread carries the beads, and the second tacks down the first, stitching over the first thread and between every two beads. Certainly laborious, but an accomplished beadworker can turn out beautiful pieces more expediently than one might imagine. Generally most beadworkers save time and motion by working with the hands on the top side of the material only, be it buckskin or cloth.
What has become known as "Prairie beadwork" stems from the tribes geographically located from Southern Wisconsin to Eastern Oklahoma-the "long grass prairies," as the region is often termed, or the "savannah country" or Eastern Plains." The "Prairie beadwork genre" constitutes an "area art style." Essentially, diverse small motifs are arranged to form larger blocks of design. The motifs range from rather abstract "curvilinear" to semi-realistic and even floral elements that are quite realistic in character. This jacket displays an effective approach to executing the beaded designs in that the initial rows or lines of beads applied to demarcate the motifs (that are in fact the outermost rows) are subsequently mirrored by a second inner row. However, beadwork filling is omitted from the interior of the individual elements. Consequently, it remains for the background color of the leather visually to fill in these areas. Likewise, instead of the overall complex of designs being universally outlined with white beads as is the more usual approach, various rich colors were chosen to enliven the patterns. The extensive amount of beading evident on this jacket makes it an exceptional example of the object type. The layout of the beadwork, indeed the overall sense or "feel" of combined characteristics of this garment closely parallels that seen on bandolier bags, moccasins, wearing blankets, shirts, leggings, skirts, and other objects produced by beadwork artists of the Potawatomi Tribe.
Condition report available upon request.
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