North-South-East-West: American Indians and the Natural World

Surviving Creatively: A New Art Form

quilled chairNew Traditions From Old
Iroquois and other Woodlands artists reinterpreted their established traditions, such as basket-making, beadwork, embroidery, and quillwork, to develop art styles that appealed to the Victorian tastes of American tourists.

Women developed the elaborate fancy basket style that appealed to Victorian tastes, while men prepared the splints and made the utilitarian work baskets. During the winter, families made the baskets, and when summer came, they packed their belongings and moved to resorts to sell their artwork.

The Iroquois were expert beadworkers, and beaded objects far outnumber the other types of Native items made for sale. The majority were made by Tuscarora and Mohawk women beadworkers, whose style of beadwork for Victoriana-type items is unmistakable. Large translucent glass beads are clustered together to form ornate, raised floral patterns, usually on dark velvet or red wool. Women also bead in a second, simpler curvilinear style using tiny beads which they embroider on their clothing and, occasionally, on bags.

Generations later, Iroquois women still make Victorian-style beaded whimsies as well as clan medallions and other items.


Image: Quilled Chair
Micmac, 1870-1900
The seat and back of the chair, which was created by a Micmac artist from Eastern Canada, are totally appliquéd in quills.
Pine? (Pinus sp.), birch (Betula papyrifera) bark, dye, porcupine (Erethizon dorsatum) quills, spruce root?, sweetgrass (Hierochloe odorata), glue, sealing wax?; L 41.5 x W 50.0 x H 90.2 cm; 35734-1 a-c, gift of James B. Richardson, III

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