Sunday, February 9, 2014

Early Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) Watch Pockets

For nineteenth century consumers, there was no such thing as too much. Their homes were richly decorated with multiple layers of both common place and exotic possessions. The well-to-do collected souvenirs, needlework, paintings, various curiosities such as archaeological and geological specimens, seashells, antique weapons, etc., all integrated in a harmonious style we think of today as Victorian. This included a fondness for all sorts of wall pockets.

Crafted throughout the Victorian era, there were countless varieties. A popular decorative accessory, wall pockets came in untold shapes and sizes; among them were teacups, parrots, irons, slippers, angels, and flowers, etc.  (figure 1). 
Figure 1 – A group of three Victorian era photographs each illustrating a mounted wall pocket in the background.
They were made from many different materials including wood (figure 2), ceramic, glass, metal, fabric, Paper Mache, etc. and they hung on the walls of both common place and fashionable homes. Some were made to hold a newspaper, matches, pocket watches, mail, rosewater to perfume a room, embroidery or to safeguard any number of functional or decorative trinkets. They were a convenience that enhanced the decor and added a sense of opulence. Those that were used to secure a pocket watch will be the subject of this posting.
Figure 2 – Victorian hanging pocket watch holder. 4 1/4” square x 1 1/4” deep.  Mahogany or rosewood veneer. It would originally have had a beveled glass over the opening and held in place by the brass door. The pocket watch was placed in the holder through a back door and you could check the time while keeping it in a safe place and displayed prominently.
 Watches were considered a luxury in the nineteenth century so when not in use, they were usually stored in a proper receptacle for protection and sometimes they were used as a substitute for a small clock. This was the reason for making watch stands (figure 3 & 4).
Figure 3 – A Regency period, brass inlaid, rosewood watch stand with a hinge section at the back for storing a watch chain or fob.

Figure 4 – Glass and metal watch holder/stand. Measures about 3” wide and 2 1/4” deep. It has three thick beveled glass sides set in either brass or bronze. The inside has a fabric cushion. Late nineteenth century.  

Wikipedia reports that “the concept of the wristwatch goes back to the production of the very earliest watches in the 16th century… From the beginning, wrist watches were almost exclusively worn by women, while men used pocket-watches up until the early 20th century. This was not just a matter of fashion or prejudice; watches of the time were notoriously prone to fouling from exposure to the elements, and could only reliably be kept safe from harm if carried securely in the pocket…”  By the early 20th century, pocket watches began to go out of fashion.
Victorian era non-Native beadworkers produced watch pockets that are similar to Native examples (figures 5 & 6) and the two may have developed simultaneously.
Figure 5 – A beaded Victorian era, wool Berlin Work, non-Native watch pocket. 

Figure 6 – Two non-Native matching Victorian watch holders and a matching wall pocket. The wall pocket is approximately 11 x 6 inches (not including the bead fringe) and the watch holders are approximately 7 x 4 inches (not including the bead fringe). All are beaded on silk velvet.

These would have been mounted on a wall, usually near the bed, and was a convenient overnight receptacle for a pocket watch. Occasionally, one is found with an old photograph in it and was likely used as a picture frame (figure 7).
Figure 7 – Iroquois watch pocket in raised beadwork, possibly Akwesasne Mohawk, 1860s-1870s; used as a picture frame for an old tintype.
It’s unclear if Victorians introduced the idea of the watch pocket or if savvy Iroquois beadworkers came up with the concept first but there are numerous Haudenosaunee examples that have survived with examples from the Mohawk, Tuscarora and Seneca. I suspect that many of these were sold at Niagara Falls as we sometimes find examples with a note or inscription that they were collected there (figure 8).
What follows is a small collection of watch pockets that were sold by Iroquois artisans to Victorian consumers during the nineteenth century.
Figure 8 – Watch pocket, Tuscarora with the inscription on the back that it was collected at Niagara Falls in 1857. 

Figure 9 – Iroquois watch pocket in the Niagara floral style incorporating both flat and raised beadwork. Mid-19th century.

Figure 10 – Iroquois watch pocket in a variation of the Niagara floral style. Mid-19th century.

Figure 11 – Two similar Iroquois watch pockets in flat beadwork with earlier motifs. Circa 1840s. Either Seneca or Tuscarora.

Figure 12 – A watch pocket collected at Niagara Falls in 1851 with an unusual beaded motif. Either Seneca or Tuscarora.

Figure 13 – An exquisite and heavily beaded Tuscarora watch pocket in raised beadwork. Circa 1860s. 

Figure 14 – A non-Native watch pocket in raised beadwork with similarities to Iroquois work. Circa 1860s.

Figure 15 – Mid-19th century Iroquois watch pocket. Possibly Seneca or Tuscarora.

Figure 16 – Mid-19th century Iroquois watch pocket. Possibly Mohawk.

Figure 17 – Late 19th/Early 20th century Mohawk wall pocket, possibly from Kahnawake, in the high style of raised beadwork.

Figure 18 – Two late 19th century Tuscarora wall pockets with bird motifs. From the collection of Grant Jonathan. 

Figure 19 – Two late 19th century Tuscarora wall pockets with a bird and owl motifs. From the collection of Grant Jonathan.

Figure 20 – An earlier Tuscarora wall pocket beaded entirely in crystal beads (1860s-1880s). Originally, there would have been a beaded fringe along the entire perimeter of the piece. From the collection of Grant Jonathan.

Figure 21 – Contemporary wall pocket, in raised beadwork, by Tuscarora artist Grant Jonathan. Grant’s work, as well as that of other Tuscarora beadworkers, is a powerful reminder that they are not reviving an ancient art form, or reintroducing it, but continuing an unbroken tradition into the present day. Tuscarora raised beadwork has always been part of their community. Beadwork is a great storyteller that expresses the maker’s relationship to each other; it also speaks to their relationship with nature, other communities, and to their traditions.