Native Beadwork

It was a weekend dedicated to beadwork. To work backwards, on Sunday my mom and I went to the Toronto Bead Society Spring Fair. Unfortunately, it was a bit of a disappointment. There were far fewer vendors than the last couple of times we went, and the two vendors I specifically wanted to visit weren’t there. On the bright side, that means I didn’t spend any money.*

Saturday was a much better day: I went to the Royal Ontario Museum for their ROM Revealed weekend. They had several special events going on, including tours of some of the behind the scenes curatorial areas. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to spend as much time looking at these areas as I’d like, but it was still very interesting to learn about how metal objects are restored, how textiles are handed, how Greek coins are being catalogued, and to see the shelves and shelves and shelves of pottery and statues that are not on display in the museum.

Since I had a little bit of time in the museum before my tour, I went to the First People’s gallery, an area I rarely visit. Truth be told (as awful as it sounds), I’m much more interested in ancient history than in the early history of my own country. But, when I took time to really examine the artifacts in the gallery, I was so surprised by all the lovely handicrafts.

Maple leaf design box and lid, Mi'kmaq, 19th century, made with porcupine quills

Maple leaf design box and lid, Mi’kmaq, 19th century, made with porcupine quills

Take, for example, the box in the picture above. The designs on it are made from dyed porcupine quills. It is a traditional handicraft of the Mi’kmaq people, who come from the Maritime provinces.

Cloth and hide dolls, c. 1890

Cloth and hide dolls, c. 1890

The front doll on the left is female, and her male counterpart is behind her. They were made by the Blackfoot people from either Alberta or Montana, c. 1890, using wool, glass beads and human hair. The doll on the right was made around the same time using sweetgrass, fish vertebrae and pericardium by the Peigan people, a tribe within the Blackfoot Confederacy. All three dolls are much more delicate and lovely than the picture shows. They were clearly made with a great deal of skill and care.

Beaded Hide Moccasins, Plains Cree, c. 1908

Beaded Hide Moccasins, Plains Cree, c. 1908

Beaded Moccasins, Plains Cree, c. 1908

Beaded Moccasins, Plains Cree, c. 1908

These two pairs of men’s moccasins were made by the Plains Cree people. They are both fully beaded, and just stunning.

Pouch, Iroquois, 19th century

Pouch, Iroquois, 19th century

And, while it seems a bit crude to pick favourites, I have to say that this pouch is mine. It was in a particularly poorly lit section of the gallery, so I wasn’t able to get a good picture. However, in reality, the beads are bright and beautiful. It was created by the Iroquois people, sometime in the 19th century.

I think I uncovered some lovely treasures by going somewhere other than my usual haunts. The pictures above are just some of the wonderful things in the First People’s gallery. I saw beaded vests, feathered headdresses, canoes, rattles, canes, and so much more. I’m so glad I took the time to look.

My mom bought me a Feegle Beader, though, which was lovely and exactly what I wanted.

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4 Responses to Native Beadwork

  1. Fay says:

    There are some lovely pieces there:)

  2. Thoeria says:

    Amazing how much beauty was created without the modern conventions! Porcupine quills!! I mean who would have thought to come up with such an innovative idea?! You’re right…the beaded pouch is gorgeous….but I’d have to say that the little porcupine box is my favourite 🙂

  3. Gracie says:

    I love the Native American beadwork. Here in Arizona we have a wonderful museum, The Heard and we go often. That Feegle Beader is wonderful!

  4. Don’t you love finding unexpected needlework? Those dolls are really impressive!