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Adornment: Native American Regalia

May 30 - Nov. 14, 2009


Now available: Adornment: Native American Regalia Cell Phone Audio Tour

The traditional clothing of the Northern Plains Indians is explored in Adornment: Native American Regalia. Curated from the Peter W. Doss Crow Indian Artifact Collection by independent curator Barbara Stone, the exhibition will feature a complete man's and woman's outfit plus various examples of adornment objects.

Native American Indian regalia and adornment is a complex assemblage of cloth, ornaments and body decoration. In the past, it served as a major form of visual artistic expression for the various tribes with a strong emphasis on the connection between clothing and identity a holistic world view where everything was linked to a complex pattern of both ritual and mythology. In the absence of written languages, personal adornment became an important element of Indian communication, conveying many levels of information.

The traditional clothing of the Northern Plains Indians was made of tanned animal hide, decorated with colorful geometric and floral designs in quill or beadwork. Various forms of adornment and motifs were used to embellish this basic attire for men, women, and children. Glass trade beads, brought by European fur traders in the early 1800's allowed women to decorate clothing and accessories in symbolically beaded geometric and floral motifs. After 1870, beadwork became even more intricate and varied with recognizable regional, tribal and reservation style.

Other types of adornment such as eagle feather war bonnets, headdresses with buffalo horns and dance roaches, were worn by tribal men of distinction. Although both men and women wore jewelry, hair bone breastplates and bear claw necklaces were primarily male ornamentation. Beaded vests, armbands, and gauntlets adapted from the white man's world were worn by men and boys and served as an additional clothing enhancement.

Exotic adornment, such as horn dance wands, eagle wing fans, and war shields helped to identify and consolidate power among tribal leaders, warriors, and medicine men. Bags and pouches, which held paints, sewing equipment, mirrors, tobacco and "personal medicine," were both decorative and functional. Fancy trailers, along with leg bells, added both movement and sound during spiritual and traditional dance ceremonies.

The final step in completing an outfit was footwear. Moccasins, for men, women, and children, came in all shapes, sizes, and designs. Those for everyday wear were plain while ceremonial moccasins were beautifully adorned with vibrant, multi-colored designs.

Today, the Northern Plains area and its people continue as a vital region of Indian identity and creativity. Modern Native American regalia draw upon ancient concepts, and are still viewed as deeply meaningful in communicating the spiritual values of harmony and balance. Created by Native artisans who move with ease among multiple realities, today's finest adornment designs still remain a major statement of tribal and individual identity.

  • Funded by the UW Art Museum National Advisory Board Endowment.

Images:

Left: Woman's Leggings and Moccasins Crow Not dated Seed beads (spot stitch), sinew, leather 9-1/2 x 13 inches, leggings; 7-1/2 x 10 x 4-1/2 inches, moccasins University of Wyoming Art Museum, Peter W. Doss Crow Indian Artifact Collection, no. 239, 384c

Center: Eagle Wing Fan Crow Not dated Golden eagle wing, cut glass beads (gourd stitch), native tanned leather, thread 41 x 16-1/2 inches University of Wyoming Art Museum, Peter W. Doss Crow Indian Artifact Collection, no. 27

Right: Breastplate Crow Not dated Bone hair pipes, trade beads, seed beads, ribbon, hide 19 x 9 inches University of Wyoming Art Museum, Peter W. Doss Crow Indian Artifact Collection, no. 369


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