A Beautiful Tradition: Ingenuity and Adaptation in a Century of Plateau Women’s Art
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A Beautiful Tradition:
Ingenuity and Adaptation in a Century of Plateau Womens Art
Adaptation The modification of a person, process or object to adjust to new or changing resources, purposes, circumstances or surroundings.
The application of creativity and imagination; ingenuity is the process of developing and executing new ideasoften by building on existing skills and resources while incorporating new ones.
Map of the Plateau Region and PeoplesCourtesy of the Wellpinit, WA, school districtThe Plateau region includes eastern Oregon and Washington, northern Idaho, NW Montana, and southern British Columbia.
Tribal Territories in Montana, 1855The Plateau Tribes of Western Montana are: Kootenai, Pend DOreille, and Salish.After 1855, the Flathead Reservation was established, diminishing their land base.
Cultural attributes of Plateau tribesFishing cultures, harvesting salmon from the rivers.Hunted, but were not totally dependent on big game for food in the same way Plains tribes relied on bison.Harvested edible plants in abundance; processed and stored fruits, vegetables, roots, meat and fish for later use. Lived in semi-permanent villages, moved seasonally for harvesting and fishing. Some traveled to hunt bison.Created a language-based geographical map by naming many locations in reference to their resources.Egalitarian societies; not stratified; women could lead. Raised horses (some, like the Cayuse and Nez Perce) The Appaloosa is a Nez Perce breed.Peaceful; generally not military cultures.Long history of intertribal trade and social relations (including conflict) with tribes of other regions, including the Blackfeet, Crow, and Shoshone.
Traditional Arts of the PlateauCarving created elaborate designs in stone, wood and bighorn sheeps horns; carved items include utensils, dishes, tools, and ceremonial objects.Basketry coiled and twined baskets of various shapes and sizes, from many kinds of plant fibers; used for food/plant harvest & storage, transport, personal belongings, and clothing (twined hats similar to small baskets). Geometric patterns and plant dyes.Decorative arts decorated some clothing, many utilitarian objects; used shells, beads, bones; colored with dyes and pigments; fringes; some quillwork; imbrication.Leather work tanned hides, painted, fringed, decorated. Used rawhide for parfleche, painted with pigments made from mineral, animal and botanical ingredients.
Plateau Art: Painted ParflecheMediarawhide, paint made from minerals and animal fats, leather tiesFunctionmeat cases, transporting goods, general storage, giftsDesign stylegeometricMotfstriangles, bars, diamonds, primary colors Similar to Blackfeet, Gros Ventre and other N. Plains tribes in style, design and color.
Plateau Art: Coiled BasketryMaterialscedar root (darker), beargrass (lighter)Techniquecoiled with reinforced rimDesign stylegeometric, stair-step patternsFunctionharvesting, cooking, transporting
Plateau Arts: Twined BagsMaterials/Media: Corn husk Indian hemp (apocynum) Beargrass, dogbane Jute (after 1900) Plant-based dyes Aniline dyes (20th cent.) Techniques: Twining Imbrication (false embroidery)
Corn Husk Bags: Beauty & UtilityFunction Harvesting edible plants Storage of edible roots
Decoration & Design Geometric patterns False embroidery Use of natural materials from own environment
Cultural Esthetic Materials, design/style and compositionas well as bagare part of cultural identity.
Technique: False embroidery (Imbrication)
Adaptation for new function: recycling harvest bag into belt bag
Intertribal Trade: Plateau, Northern Plains, Great Basin
Fur trade brings new medium for Plateau art Bead types and sizes:
Pony beads = over 1 cmSeed beads = less than 1cmOpaque (solid color)Translucent (semi-clear)Cut (faceted edges; also called Russian beads)Greasy (appear murky) Beads were made in Czechoslovakia, Italy, Russia and other eastern European countries.
The influence of Chippewa, Cree & Mtis beadwork on Plateau artTri-foliate designs, Scalloped edges, Wide color range, Arbitrary coloring, Reuse of materials, Multicultural heritage
Early Foliate and Floral Designs
Transformation of the Flower MotfTwined flowers: Geometric, abstract design style Twining technique is limited to straight lines and sharp angles resulting in rectilinear shapes
Beaded flowers: Realistic, naturalistic style Two-needle appliqu permits creation of curvilinear shapes and enhances realism. Flowers look real and identifiable.
Stars & Flowers in the 20th Century
Realism in Composition and StylePlateau women used two-needle appliqu stitch technique for tightly-beaded curvilinear shapes. Native songbirds and flowers, like the glacier lily on the right, were done in realistic representation. Background (left) is contour style.
Boarding School Era and the influence of Victorian esthetics, 1880s-1920s
World War I: Indians as Americans
Ingenuity and 20th Century Design
Continuity of Cultural Identity through Womens Art and EstheticsMother and daughter in ceremonial dress, Flathead Reservation, July, 1906Cornhusk bag from 1940, with 8-point star motf an artistic emblem of cultural identityWomans beaded belt pouch with foliate design, circa 1890-1920
Everything that I try to make, I try to make with the utmost quality in mind. I dont approve of making something with a frivolous attitude. Because no matter where that piece goes, I go with it, because I put something [of myself] into it Following traditional aesthetics means you have to strive You have to strive in a sense not for personal worthiness, but for an honoring statement to the Creator for what He has given youto give respect to everything He has provided.
Joanne Bigcrane, Pend DOreille quill & bead artist, A Song to the Creator, p. 129-132
Created by Laura Fergusonfor the Montana Historical SocietyIn conjunction with the temporary exhibit Tradition, Design, Color: Plateau Indian Bags from the Fred Mitchell Collection
Copyright 2009, Montana Historical Society, Helena, MontanaWith Funding by the Montana Office of Public Instruction
Montana Historical Society (MHS) Photo Archives Collection 954-553, Mother and daughter, Flathead Reservation, 1906. Photo by R.H. Willcomb.
Map of tribal areas in 1855. Used with permission, UM Regional Learning Project (map itself) and (the above image) excerpted from Montana, Stories of the Land, (page 124) by Krys Holmes, Montana Historical Society Press, 2008. MHS x1981.67.11 parfleche meat case, circa 1900.MHS 1998.04.189 Small coiled Plateau basket.MHS x1993.17.30 Corn husk bag with cotton string warp, botanical dyes, 1925-1945, Plateau, possibly Nez Perce.MHS x1993.17.30 reverse side of corn husk bag with cotton string warp, apocynum fiber, botanical dyes, 1925-1945, Plateau, possibly Nez Perce.
MHS #1998.04.74 Cornhusk bag with false embroidery in dyed cornhusk, circa 1880-1900.Left: MHS x1978.46.310, womans cornhusk belt bag, wool yarn imbrication, circa 1890-1900.Center: MHS x1982.19.06, womans cornhusk belt bag, circa 1930, made from larger cornhusk bag from around 1900.Right: MHS x1977.19.25, cornhusk belt bag, dyed husk and wool yarn imbrication, circa 1900, from collection of Frank Linderman.MHS 1946.01.05 Cornhusk-style bag, 1890-1900, jute and/or apocynum fiber, naturally dyed wool yarn. Upper: Detail from MHS 1998.04.178 translucent and faceted seed beads.Lower: Detail from MHS x1961.13.01 greasy, opaque, cut and translucent seed beads.Pony beads reach the Plateau via fur traders by 1810; smaller seed beads arrive around 1840 or so.Top: Front and back of MHS 1998.04.79, small beaded bag in Chippewa or Mtis style.Right: MHS 1988.119.07 Small bag made from uniform sleeve, from Jocko, Montana. Various size beads and shells. Bottom: MHS 1998.04.81 Plateau-style flat handbag beaded in Mtis or Cree style and colors.Left: MHS 1998.04.66, Plateau style beaded bag, overlay stitch, beaded on one side. Circa 1900.Right: MHS x1961.13.01, beaded Kootenai handbag, beaded on one side, circa 1880-1900. Top: Flower motif detail from MHS 1998.04.73, circa 1900-1920, aniline dyed cornhusk or apocynum fibers.Bottom: Flower motif from MHS x1979.14.14, beaded Plateau bag, probably from Flathead reservation.Left: MHS Photo Archives Collection 954-843. Wife and daughter of Chief Sheta-mo-on-e, Yakima and Umatilla, 1900.Upper right: MHSx1955.05.07 Twined handbag, cornhusk and dyed plant fibers, Yakima or Umatilla design. Circa 1910.Lower right: Beaded handbag in realistic floral design, circa 1930. Used with permission from the Fred Mitchell collection.
Bottom: MHS small beaded Plateau-style purse in Mtis or Chippewa colors and design. Circa 1880-1890.
Left: Small beaded handbag with wool trade cloth backing, contour beaded, 1880. Fred Mitchell collection. Used with permission.Right: Beaded bag with birds and flowers, circa 1890, from Fred Mitchell collection. Used with permission. Upper Left: MHS x1979.14.14, reverse side of small beaded bag with irises, circa 1910-1920.Lower left: Beaded bag circa 1920-1930, from the Fred Mitchell collection, used with permission.Center & Right: Plateau bag circa 1900, one side beaded, other false embroidery, from the Fred Mitchell collection, used with permission.Upper left: MHS x1965.12.02 Beaded belt bag with horse and rider, 1940, from the collection of MT