Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Encampments

     During the nineteenth century, several writers have given us an account of the places where Iroquois artisans took up residence during the travel season to sell their work. There is also a small corpus of images of these encampments and both will be discussed in this posting.
     Throughout the Victorian period, women acquired a sentimentalized vision of Indian life from prints and magazine articles in which Native people were often inaccurately depicted as still living in quintessential harmony with nature. Indian encampment life was romanticized by some writers, such as a Mademoiselle Rouche, who wrote an account of one in the 1859 edition of the Lady’s Newspaper, a British publication. The encampment in her apocryphal account was “perhaps located on the picturesque shores of some vast lake, where the giant trees shut out the oppressive beams of the burning sun, where the day-light is softened down by shades of foliage, weaving, like the many folds of Nature’s curtains, as the soft breeze rustles through them, with a carpet of grass, strewn with wild flowers, and a little streamlet gurgling by on its way towards the lake. In such a spot may the lodge of the Indian have been erected… where a dwelling of birch-bark, with a buffalo skin hung in the opening, which served as a door. Here, no doubt, curling up among the trees of the forest, rose the blue smoke from the blazing faggot-fire, over which the savoury mess of the family meal might be simmering, composed of the wild duck, the squirrel, and such fish as the lake afforded, while around the habitation hunting and fishing implements might be hung about in proof that the supply of nature’s wants was as much a pleasure as a necessity to the half-civilized sojourner in those uncultivated glades and forest depths” (as quoted in Phillips 1998:220). The image in figure 1 more accurately represents the harsh reality of Indian encampment life during that period. 
Fig. 1- One panel from each of three separate stereo views of a Tuscarora encampment. Location is not specified but likely somewhere near Niagara Falls. The images are all copyrighted 1893 by photographer George Barker of Niagara Falls (private collection).
     Besides Niagara Falls, the exotic and imaginative souvenir items that were produced by the Haudenosaunee were readily available at summer resorts and tourist destinations throughout the Northeast. The August 1, 1859, issue of the New York Herald newspaper ran a large section that detailed many of the popular tourist destinations at the time. The article covered everything from fashion apparel, food, rules of behavior and amusements, and many of these venues were destinations for the Indians as well – places where they could sell their baskets and fancy beadwork. Some of the localities mentioned were Cape May in New Jersey; Montreal and St. Catharine’s Springs in Canada; Lake Memphremagog in Vermont; Bedford Springs in Pennsylvania; Long Branch, Orient, and Glen Cove on Long Island; New Rochelle and Lake George in New York (fig. 2, 3, 4 & 5); and Salt Sulphur Springs in Virginia. The New York Bathing Machines are also mentioned. Other localities in New York State, such as Alexandria Bay (fig. 6 & 7), the Indian village at Saratoga Springs (fig. 8 & 9), Tabor’s Indian Bazaar in Watkins Glen were also popular destinations. The Indian encampment at Sharon Springs (fig. 10), just south of Canajoharie was actually an Abenaki encampment and they seem to have traveled to sell their work as much as the Mohawk did. The June, 1856 edition of Harper New Monthly Magazine indicated that "In the woods on the top of the hill, above the springs, was a small encampment of St. Francis Indians, who have occupied the spot for several consecutive seasons, make and sell baskets, fans, and other splint-work, and give pleasure to visitors by their novelty and the picturesqueness of their little village. The chief among them was a very intelligent man, of pure Indian blood, whose wife was a white woman, the daughter of respectable Methodist clergyman. She was represented as an exemplary wife and mother, and seems to have acquired all the gravity and stoicism of the people among whom her lot is cast. Day after day she toils there at basketmaking, and appeared happy." 
     These were fashionable vacation hubs for the expanding middle class and many were locales where Indian souvenir items could be purchased.
Fig. 2 – One panel from a stereo view titled “Indian Encampment at Lake George, New York.”  Circa 1870. Several ladies in bustle dresses are examining a selection of baskets on the table. Possibly a group of Mohawks. Photographer: R.S. Stoddard, Glen Falls, New York (private collection).
Fig. 3 – One panel from a stereo view titled “The young Basket Maker, Lake George, New York.” Circa 1870. Possibly a Mohawk from Akwesasne or Kahnawake. Photographer: R.S. Stoddard, Glen Falls, New York (private collection).
Fig. 4 – One panel from a stereo view titled “Group of Young Indians, Lake George, New York.”  Circa 1870. Possibly Mohawks from Akwesasne or Kahnawake. Photographer: R.S. Stoddard, Glen Falls, New York (private collection).
Fig. 5 – Cabinet card of three young girls standing before the display table of Peter Lawrence, Fancy Basket Maker, at the Lake George Indian Encampment.  A large model canoe and a selection of fancy baskets are on display. Dated on the back - August 6, 1892 (private collection).
Fig. 6 – Images from two separate stereo view titled: Indian Camp, Thousand Islands. From a series titled: Scenery among the Thousand Islands on the River St. Lawrence, from Crossmon House Photographic Studio, Alexandria Bay, Jefferson County, N.Y. - A.C. McIntyre & Co., Artists. Circa 1870 (private collection).
Fig. 7 – One panel from a stereo view titled: Indian Camp, Thousand Islands. From a series titled: Scenery among the Thousand Islands on the River St. Lawrence, from Crossmon House Photographic Studio, Alexandria Bay, Jefferson County, N.Y. - A.C. McIntyre & Co., Artists. Circa 1870 (private collection).
Fig. 8 – Images from two separate stereo views of the Indian Encampment in Saratoga Springs, NY. Circa 1870. Click on the image to enlarge it (private collection).
Fig. 9 – Images from two separate stereo views of the Indian Encampment in Saratoga Springs, NY. Circa 1870. Click on the image to enlarge it (private collection).
Fig. 10 – An engraving titled Indian Encampment, Sharon Springs [New York]. 4.5 inches in height by 4.5 inches in width. From the June 1856, edition of Harper’s New Monthly Magazine (private collection).
     Emily Rollinson has written that in the city of Saratoga Springs, “one of the earliest camps was located at Pine Grove, near North Broadway... It was more like a festival where the Indians happened to gather than an actual encampment, but Pine Grove set the standard for other encampments of the area.
    The largest and most famous of these camps was located in Congress Park (fig. 11). This encampment, also referred to as the Gypsy Camp, was originally founded in 1848 where Broadway and Ballston Avenue meet. A band of Indians arrived each year (probably from Canada) to staff the encampment. They arrived in late spring, and stayed through the end of autumn or whenever the first snow arrived.
Fig. 11 – Late nineteenth century photograph of the Indian Encampment at Saratoga Springs, New York.  The large sign leading to the Indian encampment reads “Indian Encampment Studio.” Some of the booths where the Mohawk sold their creations can be seen in the distance, below the sign (private collection).

    The camp was moved to Congress Park in the 1870s, on the corner of Circular Street and Spring Street. It remained there until 1902, when Richard Canfield purchased the property and replaced the camp with the Italian Gardens and Trout Pond of Congress Park” (Rollinson 2005).
     Some Mohawk beadworkers lived a semi-nomadic lifestyle in an effort to market their crafts. Ruth Phillips has indicated that Vendor’s permits from one Kahnawake family demonstrate that in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the MacComber’s travelled as far as Colorado and the state of Washington to sell their beadwork (Phillips 1998:33). In a rare encampment image of a family of Mohawks, they can be seen seated before a display of their beadwork (fig. 12). The beaded whiskbroom holder directly above the woman’s head is dated 1897, in beads. The designs on the man’s coat depict a lion and a unicorn. These are old Scottish and British heraldic representations and as such suggest a British tie-in. In 1860, Albert Edward, the Prince of Wales, visited the Grand River Reserve in Brantford, Ontario. Nine years later, the young Prince Arthur, Duke of Connaught visited there and was made an honorary chief. So there may be a connection between these events and the symbols on the man’s jacket. At the very least the heraldic icons suggest a Canadian origin for this exceptional image.


Fig.  12 – Late-nineteenth century cabinet card of a family of Mohawks in front of a display of their beadwork. 6.5 inches high by 4.25 inches wide.  The whiskbroom holder above the woman’s head is dated 1897 in beads. No photographer or location indicated (private collection).
    One of the more telling accounts of life in an Indian encampment reveals the difficult circumstances under which Iroquois artisans worked at their craft to earn a meager existence. In 1860, the German writer and traveler John Kohl, “armed with sticks and lanterns,” set out into a Canadian forest on a dark, autumn night in search of an Iroquois encampment that someone had told him about. He wrote that from a distance they “perceived the glimmer of a distant light among the trees, and ascertained that this was from their [the Indians] watch-fire, which shone brighter and brighter as we advanced, and at last lit up a whole forest scene for us.
    We advanced cautiously for fear of alarming the poor people, and found two women – an elder and a younger, mother and daughter, seated under a very airy kind of tent, which consisted, indeed, of nothing more than a large cloth spread over a few boughs of trees tied together. The elder woman was occupied in basket-making; the younger was stirring the fire, made of great branches and roots of trees, and both had their naked feet in the hot ashes, so that they seemed to me too be roasting. They remained quite undisturbed and busy at their work, and when we wished them good evening, answered our salutation very simply, without asking us any questions about what we wanted or where we came from.
     We expressed a hope that we had not frightened them, and they said, no; they had heard us coming when we were a good way off. We sat down by the fire, and continued the conversation; but their answers were always shorter than our questions. We learned that they were Iroquois, from a village on the ‘Lake of the Two Mountains,’ that I had passed the day before. The men of the family, father and son-in-law, had gone further up the Ottawa to hunt, some months ago; the women had accompanied them as far as Bytown [the former name of Ottawa], and were waiting for them to return afterwards together to their village on the lake, and in the mean time were earning their living by basket-making. They worked in the evening and at night, and in the day-time the daughter carried their little manufactures to the town, and the mother took care of the tent, looked for berries, boiled maize, and got something for the daughter to eat on her return. The old woman spoke no word of English, but the daughter, who also understood a few words of French, made civil replies to our questions.
     A hundred yards off there was another “camp,” as it was called, though it consisted, like this, of only a single tent. To this, which was an Algonquin camp, we scrambled over the rocks and other natural barricades that had been left between the two. The occupants were precisely as in the tent of the Iroquois, and old and a young woman, but from certain whimpering sounds that proceeded from under a sheep-skin, we perceived that the younger woman had two children. Here also the elder matron was deaf and dumb to European language, and only the younger could speak a little broken French. While we were talking, the former sat still without granting us so much as a look, thought her fingers continued in busy motion over the large basket that she had in hand; and the elastic strips of wood were pushed hither and thither, and the superfluous ends fell under her knife almost with the rapidity of an American steam saw-mill. We inquired, the daughter being interpreter, whether she would not now allow herself a little rest, as it was now ten o’clock; but she replied very briefly: ‘The baskets bring in very little. They must be ready to-morrow. We work every night.’ When we asked how old she was, the daughter’s French arithmetic quite broke down. She could count as much as ten, but was puzzled how to express any higher number, and therefore explained to her mother in Algonquin what we wanted to know.
     As soon as she had understood the question, the old lady laid aside her basket, spread out her ten fingers, and then struck her two hands at regular intervals seven times together; she then snatched her basket again, and went on plaiting as busily as before.
     I could not get out of my head the picture of this grey-haired woman of seventy sitting there on the bare damp ground in the comfortless forest, so hard at work: and I could not help thinking that the accusation of sloth, so commonly made against the poor Indians should be received ‘cum grano salis,’ [with a grain of salt]” (Kohl 1861:272-275, vol. 1).
     The Mohawk also sold their work on the streets of Montreal (fig. 13). This engraving appeared in the July 13, 1861 edition of Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper. The article was titled Indian Women of Montreal and the text that accompanied it read as follows:
     “Who has not seen in the streets of New York, at Saratoga, at Niagara, and especially at Montreal, those short, round, strangely-dressed, half Chinese looking women, whose appearance puzzles foreigners so much, but whom our world unites in terming Indian squaws? Always clad, in the warmest weather, in one vast blue blanket, covering the whole figure from head to foot, always bearing a basket, always quiet, they illustrate, after two centuries of life in contact with white people, the original state of woman among savages - that of uncomplaining, patient endurance. Come upon them in one of their gipsy like encampments, and you will find them at domestic duty, or patiently working their moccasins and baskets; see them abroad, there is still the same animal-like endurance.
     Many of these squaws, especially those who have some French blood in their veins, are very beautiful. We have seen one at Niagara who was both sprightly and graceful, and for several years Nancy, at Sharon, was quite a belle, selling her horsehair ear-rings at preposterous prices to young gentlemen. But, as a rule, the half-breed squaw, or the Indian, is a rather plain, somewhat giving to sulking, and seldom very lively; “Ugh!” and “Two shillin’!” forming the average limits of her English conversation.
     Our engraving represents two extremely well know moccasin and pincushion sellers of Montreal, who will at once be recognized by such of our readers as are familiar with that city. Like the florare, or flower-girls of Florence, they are general acquaintances, but seek their special patrons in strangers. Many of their wares are really beautiful, and are regarded as the most characteristic and charming presents which can be sent from the New World to the Old.”



Fig. 13 – 1861 engraving from Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper.
     The Quebec Tercentenary, July 1908, was another venue where the Mohawk had an encampment and likely sold their work. The images in fig. 14 are from a large group of stereo views that were produced of the event and there were many other places that went unrecorded.

Fig. 14 – One panel from each of two separate stereo views of the Indian encampment at the Quebec Tercentenary, July 1908. The individuals in the left image are identified as “Scar-Face and American Horse, chiefs of the Iroquois.” The left image is by Underwood and Underwood. The right image is by the Keystone View Company.
     To many Victorian women, the novel items that were made by Native women had an exotic allure. They considered beaded bags as highly valued fashion accessories and a cherished item of personal adornment. Many travelers felt the need to save vacation mementoes as a way to relive their holidays and these items demonstrated to friends and family that their owners were well-bred and cultured. Yet it’s unlikely that any of them appreciated the time and effort that Native artisans put into creating these objects. Each piece was the product of hard work. As Native artisans worked on their creations, they thoughtfully wove stories into their designs which told of what it meant to be Haudenosaunee. The finely executed surfaces of their products were the canvas upon which they displayed their technical skills and artistic vision. But below the surface, the power inherent in a beautiful object was a central feature of life. Many of the stories that went into the work are lost now but the work endures as a legacy, testifying to the inventiveness and sense of beauty of an exceptional and laudable people.

References Cited

Kohl, John G.
1861   Travels in Canada, and Through the States of New York and Pennsylvania. Translated by Mrs. Percy Sinnett. Revised by the author. In two volumes. Volume 1. London: George Manwaring, publisher.


Phillips, Ruth
1998   Trading Identities: The Souvenir in Native North American Art from the Northeast, 1700 – 1900. University of Washington Press, Seattle and London: McGill-Queen’s University Press, Montreal and Kingston.

Rollinson, Emily
2005   From a paper titled: Indian Encampments, written under the advisement of Dr. William Fox (now retired), Skidmore College. The paper was published online at: https://academics.skidmore.edu/saratoga_census/wiki/index.php/Indian_Encampments

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Unusual 19th Century Iroquois Floral Bags

     During the nineteenth century, the western New York Haudenosaunee, and particularly the Tuscaroras, were on the frontlines of the world’s most exciting and emerging tourist market.  Many of the Victorians who came to Niagara Falls were conscious of fashion and any stylish dress accessories they would have acquired there – such as beaded bags – would have reflected their sense of refinement and taste.
    The beaded bags that the Haudenosaunee produced for the tourist trade are distinctive and changed stylistically over time. These changes occurred gradually but, as a general rule, distinguishable style refinements can be categorized and placed into specific time periods.
Figure 1 - Typical floral bag in the Niagara style. Private collection.
During the classic period of Haudenosaunee souvenir beadwork (1800-1840s), many bags featured curvilinear and geometric designs and organic motifs. Not long after the dawn of the Victorian era however, which began in June of 1837 with the reign of Queen Victoria, a major design transformation – the rise of the Niagara floral style – took place in Haudenosaunee beadwork (figure 1). This example is typical of bags seen in this style. The flowers were frequently ovate in shape and often delineated in two shades of the same hue. Some researchers consider this a diagnostic feature of the style. The color combinations were, in many instances, a medium blue and pale blue; wine red and pink; solid yellow and transparent yellow; and white and crystal. 
     As a general rule, the earliest bags in this floral style (mid-1840s to mid-1850s) had long, thick beaded stems, usually in dark transparent green, though blue is occasionally used and there are other exceptions.  Earlier bags also had smaller beads than later examples. Despite the general diagnostic rule stated above, all of the primary and secondary colors were used on these bags. Red, white, pink, rose, pumpkin, crystal, opaque greasy yellow and transparent yellow, gold, and various distinct hues of blue beads were the predominant colors used. From time to time, purple, violet and green are seen in the flowers and other combinations are found. Occasionally, green beads were used for flowers, but generally green was reserved for stems and occasionally for leaves. Numerous examples from the early period of this floral style had bilaterally symmetrical designs. As many as sixteen colors have been observed on unique examples of these bags and though some beadwork enthusiasts cling to the notion that all the pieces in this style were made in the four diagnostic color combinations, I will demonstrate that the overwhelming evidence doesn’t support this notion. 
    Deborah Harding indicated in her thesis on Iroquois beaded bags that unlike the irregular patterning of colors found in the earlier curvilinear and geometric style (1800-1840s), the Niagara floral style (or Euro-floral style as she refers to it) exhibited “a very regular patterning of color choices.”  Although the use of specific color combinations such as dark blue/light blue, red/pink and opaque green/transparent green can be considered a diagnostic feature of these bags, “[s]tatistically, however, only the combinations of opaque dark blue with opaque light blue, and opaque green with transparent green showed any significance.” She said that opaque red with opaque pink and transparent red with transparent pink combinations “produced results of low statistical significance” (Harding 1994:61).
     Pieter Hovens has written that [d]uring the second half of the nineteenth-century floral designs. . . carried positive associations with ideals of womanhood and domesticity, explaining why the floral beadwork used by Native women to ornament dress and household accessories was so popular with Victorians consumers (Hovens 2010:26). 
    Perhaps as an accommodation to Victorian fashion trends, the floral motifs on these bags became the predominate beadwork style that would be made and sold by the Haudenosaunee during the early Victorian period and the overwhelming evidence suggests that these bags were made in many Haudenosaunee communities. Museum and private collections contain hundreds of examples that were either collected from or are attributed to the Tuscaroras, Senecas, Onondagas and the Mohawk. Because so many of these bags were sold at Niagara Falls, they are generally referred to as Niagara floral-style.

Figure 2 - C. 1860 CDV of a lady, possibly Seneca, with a Niagara floral-style
beaded bag. Private collection. Photographer: C.A. Douglas & Co., Buffalo, NY
It's unusual to find early images of Native people wearing these bags but in the circa 1860, hand-tinted, carte-de-visite (CDV) in figure 2, what was likely a Seneca woman is wearing one from her waist belt in the form of a chatelaine purse. Did she make the bag? That is certainly an unanswered question but in all probability she did. 
     Other evidence suggests that this floral style could have originated with the Seneca from the Tonawanda Reservation in western New York (see: A Cherished Curiosity – The Niagara Floral-style Beaded Bag in the Victorian Era in American Indian Art Magazine, Autumn 2010). This particular blog posting will focus on the unusual examples that were done in the Niagara floral style and will highlight those bags that do not fit the diagnostic characteristics described above. 











Figure 3 - Niagara floral style bag beaded on silk. Collection of
Jeff Graybill.
    The use of silk ribbon as an edge trim on early souvenir bags may have been occasioned by events in France. “Large stocks of ribbons were dumped on the Indian market when the French Revolution [1789-1799] enforced in France a rigid simplicity of dress” (Brasser 1976: 38). Franklin Allen points out that during the period from 1841 to 1846, “there was a noticeable falling off in the demand for silk goods” (Allen 1904:32). These dates coincide with the rapid decline in the use of silk edging on beaded bags and with the introduction of the Niagara floral style that, more often than not, was beaded on velvet and used a cotton ribbon/hem tape as the edge binding. But not all bags in this style were done this way.    






Figure 4 - C. 1830s Seneca bag with a rudimentary form of the Niagara
style in the center panel. Private collection.
     The origin of this floral style has long been a topic of discussion among collectors and researchers alike.  Evidence in the way of dated examples and early photographs suggests it emerged during the early to mid-1840s, in the waning years of the classic period of Haudenosaunee beadwork. But it’s possible that this style developed even earlier than that. During the transition from the curvilinear style to the Niagara floral style, Native beadworkers were experimenting with the form and occasionally examples are found where the entire bag was beaded on silk. The purse in figure 3 is an early example in the Niagara floral style and it may date to the late 1830s or early 1840s. The stem style on this bag has an incipient representation of the thick stems that would come to dominate the designs on mature examples of the early Niagara floral style. The stem on this bag is also very similar to one on a Seneca example from the 1830s (figure 4). This example has a rudimentary form of the Niagara floral-style in the center panel of the bag. 

Figure 5 - Early floral bag beaded on silk.
Collection of Jeff Graybill.
The bag in figure 4 may be the genesis of the style and adds weight to the argument that this floral style originated with the Seneca from western New York. The bead colors used to delineate the flowers and leaves on the example in figure 3 are unusual. This bag also has a two-bead edging along the perimeter, a beading technique that is usually found on pieces from the classic period of Haudenosaunee beadwork (1800-1840s) and the shape of the bag is a variation of the hex shape found on many early bags.





















Figure 6 - Early Niagara style bag beaded on silk.
Private collection.

Two other unusual bags in the early Niagara style (figures 5 & 6) are also beaded on silk. Though the elongated shape of both bags is similar, the beading style on each is different and the floral forms and use of color on figure 6 is not typical of the style. This bag also has a false flap with a beaded fringe.



















Figure 7 - Early floral bag that is beaded on silk. The bilaterally symmetrical
design is more typical of the type we see on these yet some of the color combinations used are atypical.
Collection of Jeff Graybill.
The bilateral symmetry and the floral designs on the silk bag in figure 7 are more typical of those observed in the Niagara floral style yet the color choices used throughout are not the diagnostic color combinations usually associated with this floral style. The example in figure 8 is beaded on black velvet and the design motifs are very similar to those on the bag in figure 7 yet again, the diagnostic color combinations are not used throughout.












Figure 8 - Beaded bag on black velvet in the Niagara floral style. C. 1850. The color combinations are atypical.
Private collection.


Figure 9 - A floral bag beaded on silk with unusual color combinations on some of the flowers. The flowers are also depicted in various stages of blossoming, a technique that was associated with some Seneca beadworkers. Private collection.

     The images that follow are a small sampling of more unusual bags that do not fit the standard diagnostic for the Niagara floral-style. I’ve seen hundreds of these unusual examples over the years and it’s obvious, even from a cursory examination of these bags, that Native beadworkers were not limiting themselves to this so-called four-color theory.
     The possible evolution of these bags from the Seneca model described in the American Indian Art Magazine article cited earlier as well as the similarity of the design in the early Seneca bag (figure 4) and the photograph of what was likely a Seneca woman wearing a Niagara floral bag in figure 2 suggests that the style could have originated with the Seneca in the late 1830s or early 1840s. Within a very short period of time, and no doubt due to the bags’ popularity, other Haudenosaunee communities started making them.
     Vast quantities of these bags were made and sold after 1845 and in all likelihood, commercial motives influenced the rapid dispersion of the style to other Haudenosaunee communities. These bags were pervasive, and the extent to which they were admired by Victorian women no doubt fueled the dissemination of the style throughout the region. The style had become so popular and widespread that mid-nineteenth century ladies magazines occasionally ran illustrated articles that described to their readers how they could make their own (see: Phillips 1998:219, figure 6.18).
Figure 10 - A circa 1850 Niagara floral bag with atypical color combinations used to delineate the flowers.
Private collection.
Figure 11 - An unusual treatment of the flowers on this circa 1850 floral bag. Private collection.
Figure 12 - A Niagara floral bags from the 1850s with atypical color combinations for the flowers.
Private collection.
Figure 13 - Another C. 1850 Niagara style bag
with atypical color combinations for the flowers.
Private collection.
Figure 14 - Circa 1850 with atypical color combinations.
Private collection.
Figure 15 - From the 1850s with atypical color combinations in some of
the floral motifs. Private collection.
Figure 16 - Very unusual color use and design on this early floral bag. The edge binding
is done in silk. Private collection.



Figure 17 - An early floral bag with blue/black and red/black bead combinations.
This 1840s bag also has a silk edge binding. There are 14 unique bead colors on this example.

Figure 18 - Daguerreotype (1843-1845).
     Figure 18 illustrates the earliest known Niagara floral bag in a photograph. In this recently found image, the style of the young girl’s dress along with its tight sleeves, elongated bodice, and shallow V neckline date this rare image to the 1843-1845 period. Unlike many daguerreotypes from the mid-nineteenth century where the sitters wore their most fashionable outfits, these seem like plain folks.  The older woman’s dress is very unfashionable for the period and was likely just a generic house/work dress with a shapeless, practical jacket.  The bag must have been a prized possession.





Detail of the bag in figure 18.


























If you have an interest in Northeast Woodland beadwork you might find my book of interest. Titled: A Cherished Curiosity: TheSouvenir Beaded Bag in Historic Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) Art by GerryBiron. Published in 2012. This is a brand new, hard cover book with dust jacket. 184 pages and profusely illustrated. 8.5 x 11 inches. ISBN 978-0-9785414-1-5.
Since the early nineteenth century, Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) beaded bags have been admired and cherished by travelers to Niagara Falls and other tourist destinations for their aesthetic beauty, detailed artistry, and the creative spirit of their makers.  A long neglected and misunderstood area of American Indian artistry, "souvenir" art as it's come to be called, played a crucial role in the subsistence of many Indian families during the nineteenth century. This lavishly illustrated history examines these bags – the most extensively produced dress accessory made by the Haudenosaunee – along with the historical development of beadworking both as an art form and as a subsistence practice for Native women.
In this book, the beadwork is considered in the context of art, fashion, and the tourist economy of the nineteenth century. Illustrated with over one hundred and fifty of the most important – and exquisite – examples of these bags, along with a unique collection of historical photographs of the bags in their original context, this book provides essential reading for collectors and researchers of this little understood area of American Indian art.

References Cited

Allen, Franklin
1904   The Silk Industry of the World at the Opening of the Twentieth Century. Published by The Silk Association of America.

Brasser, Ted J.
1976   Bo’Jou, Neejee! Profiles of Canadian Indian Art. Published by the National Museum of Man. The National Museums of Canada.

Harding, Deborah
1994   Bagging the Tourist Market: A Descriptive and Statistical Study of 19th Century Iroquois Beaded Bags. Masters Thesis. Anthropology Department, University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Hovens, Pieter
2010   The Ten Kate Collection 1882-1888 in European Review of Native American Studies, Monograph 4. Series Editor: Christian F. Feest. National Museum of Ethnology, Leiden, The Netherlands, ZKF Publishers.

Phillips, Ruth B.
1998   Trading Identities – The Souvenir in Native North American Art from the Northeast 1700-1900. University of Washington Press & McGill-Queen’s University Press.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Old Images of People with Iroquois Beaded Bags

     During the nineteenth century, ladies’ magazines like Godey’s Ladies Book, Peterson’s Magazine, Demorest’s and  Harper’s Bazaar kept women abreast of Paris fashion trends and allowed the average woman the opportunity to venture into the fashion world of the elite and upper classes.
     Joan Severa, Curator Emerita and costume history consultant for the State Historical Society of Wisconsin Museum wrote that
[t]he nineteenth century was in a very large part based on appearances and… there was a powerful drive towards a “proper” fa├žade. It was of tremendous, almost moral significance during the nineteenth century that one appear cultured (Severa 1995: xv).

     It’s hard to underestimate the importance of fashion in the nineteenth century.
Fashion is extremely aristocratic in its tendencies,” wrote Mary P. Merrifield in 1854. “Every change emanates from the highest circles, who reject it when it has descended to the vulgar. No new form of dress was ever successful which did not originate among the aristocracy. From the ladies of the court, the fashions descended through all the ranks of society, until they at last died a natural death among the cast-off clothes of the housemaid” (Merrifield 1854).

     Literally thousands of mid-nineteenth century photographs of stylishly dressed women, young and old, have survived and in a small number of them the sitter is holding or wearing a Haudenosaunee beaded bag. They testify to the prestige and the prevailing taste for Hodenosaunee beadwork during the middle decades of the nineteenth century and it speaks to the especially high regard they held for these purses, an appreciation that would contribute to the preservation of the beaded bags now so prized by collectors.
     The transition from the old style of souvenir bags that were decorated with curvilinear and geometric designs to the Niagara floral style took place sometime in the early to mid-1840s, and examples of these bags are seen from time to time in daguerreotypes from this period. 
     The daguerreotype process, invented in 1839, was the first practical photographic method. It produced a sharp, positive image on a highly polished, silver-coated copper plate, but fell out of favor by 1860, replaced by the less expensive ambrotype. Introduced in 1854, the ambrotype process produced a negative image on a glass plate that could be viewed as a positive image by the addition of a black paper backing. It fell out of favor by the mid-1860s, replaced by the less expensive tintype and prints that were made on paper, such as cabinet cards and carte-de-visites.  Daguerreotypes were in vogue for about twenty years and ambrotypes for at least ten years so their lifespan nearly parallels the peak production years of the Niagara floral style. Tintypes and prints produced on paper first appeared in the mid-1850s. Thus, there is some overlap in the photographic processes that were in use.
     With a little effort, these early images can be accurately dated by the clothing styles worn by the subjects.  In the early years of photography, having a portrait taken by the fashionable daguerreotype process was a grand event for which people wore the newest and most stylish outfit in their wardrobe. By studying nineteenth-century fashion trends an old photograph can often be dated to within a year or two of when it was taken.

     For instance, in this early daguerreotype, a young woman wears a cartridge-pleated dress with a shortened waistline, a shirred, softly pleated front, a small collar of fine lace, and tight sleeves. These details, along with her hairstyle, suggest a circa 1847 date for this image. The long stems and ovate flowers on her Niagara-style bag indicate that even at this early date, the bilaterally symmetrical floral patterns were well developed into the recognizable Niagara style.  The flap is still scalloped and a hint of scalloping can be seen along the edge of the bag. 
        In another daguerreotype of an unidentified middle-aged couple, the woman’s dress has a long, board-like bodice. It wasn’t until 1853 that a more comfortable corset appeared. Her somewhat plain white work collar and sleeve frills, the tight sleeves of her dress, and her hairstyle, with the heavy side wings of hair that are widened over the ears, indicate a date of circa 1850. Her Niagara style bag has large, ovate florals and long thick stems and a white bead edge fringe.  The flap of the bag is more rectangular, and the bottom of the bag is rounded.


     This daguerreotype of Henrietta and Harry Gires is dated 1852.The bag in this photograph appears to have a bilaterally symmetrical design, which points to an early date. The lower edge of the flap is curved, and there is a beaded fringe along the perimeter of the bag. 
    The old photos in the following images not only help to contextualize the Niagara style of souvenir bags but they also illustrate the diversity of design that existed within this early floral tradition. Literally thousands of these bags still exist, and though they all have stylistic similarities, no two are exactly alike.
The earliest known daguerreotype of someone with a Niagara style bag. Circa 1845.
Mid-to late 1850s daguerreotype.
Early to mid 1850s daguerreotype.
Mid - to late 1850s daguerreotype.

Circa 1850 daguerreotype.
Circa 1860 daguerreotype.

Early to mid -1850s daguerreotype - the extra expense paid to the photographer to  hand color the bag testifies to its
importance to the sitter.


Daguerreotype - 1840s with a different style of Iroquois bag from the period.

Circa 1860 ambrotype. The style of the bag reflects the change going on in the Niagara style at this time. The ovate flowers from the earlier period have evolved into elongated leaf-like clusters and the long stems connecting the flowers have essentially dissapeared.
Another anbrotype from the early 1860s.

Another ambrotype from the early 1860s. The bags from this period had much more efficient designs and were not as elaborately beaded as those from the 1840s and 1850s.

Circa 1860 ambrotype with yet another style of Iroquois bag being made during that period. I've seen documented examples in this style that were collected from the Mohawk at Kahnawake (Caughnawaga).

If you have an interest in Northeast Woodland beadwork you might find my book of interest. Titled: A Cherished Curiosity: TheSouvenir Beaded Bag in Historic Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) Art by GerryBiron. Published in 2012. This is a brand new, hard cover book with dust jacket. 184 pages and profusely illustrated. 8.5 x 11 inches. ISBN 978-0-9785414-1-5.
Since the early nineteenth century, Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) beaded bags have been admired and cherished by travelers to Niagara Falls and other tourist destinations for their aesthetic beauty, detailed artistry, and the creative spirit of their makers.  A long neglected and misunderstood area of American Indian artistry, "souvenir" art as it's come to be called, played a crucial role in the subsistence of many Indian families during the nineteenth century. This lavishly illustrated history examines these bags – the most extensively produced dress accessory made by the Haudenosaunee – along with the historical development of beadworking both as an art form and as a subsistence practice for Native women.
In this book, the beadwork is considered in the context of art, fashion, and the tourist economy of the nineteenth century. Illustrated with over one hundred and fifty of the most important – and exquisite – examples of these bags, along with a unique collection of historical photographs of the bags in their original context, this book provides essential reading for collectors and researchers of this little understood area of American Indian art.

Visit my website to see more historic Iroquois beadwork.


References Cited

Merrifield, Mary Philadelphia
1854   Dress as Fine Art, London (Reprinted from articles published the previous year)

Severa, Joan
1995   Dressed for the Photographer – Ordinary Americans & Fashion 1840 – 1900. The Kent State University Press, Kent, Ohio & London, England.