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Northern Plains Beaded Cloth and Hide Woman's Dress

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American Indian & Ethnographic Arts - 2376
Date / Time :
September 23, 2007 10:00AM


Northern Plains Beaded Cloth and Hide Woman's Dress, Blackfoot, c. 1870, the rectangular buffalo hide yoke with short fringed sleeves and beaded with bands of stepped geometric designs in greasy yellow, black, and pumpkin-colored seed beads alternating with bands of white, the early red trade cloth bottom fringed at the sides and bottom and beaded along the bottom using black and white beads, (bead loss), lg. 50, wd. 32 in.

Provenance: A New England library museum.

Note: This woman's dress is an excellent example of fashion change among the Blackfoot Indians during the last decades of the 19th century. As such it presents evidence of the innovative creativity of the Native women in a period of tremendous change in their life. The world of the nomadic hunters was fading away. The fur trader's cloth, once a rare luxury, now became a necessity due to the lack of elk skins.

In order to prevent raveling, cloth had to be cut on the square, initiating the development of a new dress pattern, the square-cut dress. Yet, this new fashion was not a complete break from the past. Not only is the general style of the square-cut dress reminiscent of the former skin dress, but the skin fringes added along the sides and bottom of the cloth dress are also reminders of the past. Most obvious in this respect are the horizontal lanes of lazy-stitch beadwork decorating the top, creating an evenly leveled variant of the meandering lanes on the old skin dresses. Gussets were sewn into the sides to make the skirt fuller.

The square-cut dress style became popular among the Blackfoot in the early reservation period of the 1880s, but certain details of this particular example suggest that it was made perhaps a decade earlier. Buffalo skin, extremely rare by the 1880s, was used for the bead-worked top part, and for the fringes along the sides and bottom of this dress. The bright red stroudcloth is the old cochineal-dyed material, definitely old-fashioned by the 1880s. Also old-fashioned is the stark combination of black and white in the beadwork along the bottom. Rather unique is the use of designs worked in the beadwork lanes at the top, though the designs themselves are classic Blackfoot. This decorative enrichment may explain the use of seed beads instead of the conventional and larger pony beads. Most probably this woman's dress was made by the northern (Canadian) Blackfoot c. 1870. [Dr. T.J. Brasser].
Estimate $10,000-15,000


Blackfoot, New England, fur trader , T.J. Brasser, Bead, Beadwork, Seed bead, Skirt