Archive for the 'beadwork' Category

Object: Moccasins

E/50/8/8 a-b
Kiowa, Oklahoma
Materials: Native tanned leather, sinew, glass beads, copper tinklers

These moccasins, created from tanned buffalo hide sewn with sinew and decorated with glass beads and metal tinklers were worn by a Kiowa man in the early 20th century. The word moccasin, derived from the Algonquin language, actually comes from the ‘V’ shape of the instep, or the front part of the shoes where the toes would rest. Moccasins come in a variety of shapes, styles, sizes and colors depending on the culture that creates them. The Kiowa, for example, are known for their two-pieced, hard sole moccasins that were decorated with hexagonal and triangular beaded shapes. The Kiowa are also known for their sewing pattern called the “lazy stitch technique.” This technique is done by pushing the needle under the top layer of skin on a hide, but not all the way through, as with many other types of stitches. The Kiowa have a unique style that is portrayed through their material culture.

The Kiowa are a Native American tribe whose roots lie in the great plains. Though the plains are known to have many grasses, the Northern plains environment still contains various flora and sharp rocks that can harm a person’s feet. Hard soled moccasins were created for protection from the environment. The Kiowa are known for their hard sole moccasins, which allowed them able to maneuver in the plains environment with ease. This was especially important during the winter months because the moccasins served as protection from the cold.

Aside from being used for protection the moccasins also held a cultural value. They were worn with traditional dance regalia and used during spiritual ceremonies. The Sun Dance was among the many ceremonials  where traditional dress was worn. Today, the Kiowa continue to ritualize dancing within their community. The Gourd Dance and the Black Leggings Society dances are performed every year by members of the tribe. Watch the video below to see a Kiowa War Dance song.

Work Cited

Native American Languages.
Native American Indian Moccasins.

Open Inquiry Archive.
What Makes These Things Kiowa?.

Prindle, Tara.
Native American Clothing: Overview of the Moccasin.

Texas Behind History.
The Kiowa.

[Alyxandra Stanco]

Object: Infant Moccasins

E2010.31 a-b
Plains Region, United States of America
ca. 1935
Tanned hide glass beads, sinew
Gift of Lazona Cochnauer Health

Moccasins like these are known as a hard-soled type. These particular moccasins are made from two different pieces of hide. The rawhide sole is stitched to the soft, tanned hide body with sinew. Hard-soled moccasins were common among many Plains Indian tribes in the early 20th century. These tribes were known as bison hunters, who followed the bison herds across the North American continent. Since the Plains Indians from this period were a mobile group of people they needed footwear that could withstand rough or rocky terrain.

The type of beadwork on these moccasins became widespread after European contact. The European soldiers brought with them glass bead and would trade with Native communities. The introduction of glass beads to Plains Indian tribes sparked a revolution in the decorative treatment of garments. Before the availability of glass beads, Plains women would decorate their clothes with paint, shells, and flattened quills. It was a lot of work to make beads out of shell or to flatten porcupine quills.  With the introduction of glass beads, Plains women could make more extensive designs. The small glass beads are available in a variety of colors.

Plains Indian beading is a fashion trend that is still alive and prospering today. Both men and women participate in the craft. Moccasins along with other beaded works of art continue to be made by Native artists throughout North America.

Check out this video about Greg Bellanger a contemporary Ojibwe beadworker from Minnesota.

Work Cited

Hämäläinen, Pekka
2011  Hunting. in Encyclopedia of the Great Plains. eds. David J. Wishart.

Kansas Historical Society
1993  Native American Beadwork. in Kansapedia.

2014  Rawhide.

2014 Sinew.

Prindle, Tara
1994  Native American Clothing, Overview of Footwear; Moccasins. in NativeTech: Native
American Technology and Art.

[Madison Ennenga]

Photo Quiz Answer!

Thanks to everyone who took the photo quiz last week! Now, what is this object?


This is a cradleboard from the 1930′s from the Ethnology Collection of the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History.  An infant would have been placed inside, strapped in, and then the mother would have secured the cradleboard to her back. The cradleboard has a wooden frame that is smoothed and polished with two vertical pieces pointed at the top ends. The actual carrier portion is made of a buckskin cover lined on the inside with printed cloth. The outside is covered with seed beads forming geometric-floral designs outlined in reds, blues, yellow, green, and white on a blue bead background. Each cradleboard was unique, with different intricate designs and patterns reflecting the family’s love of their child. Historically, for the Kiowa, women were primarily responsible for raising children, and this type of device allowed a woman to keep track of and care for her child even when busy doing other things.

[Stephanie Lynn Allen]


Object: Hand Game Set

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Hand game set
Carnegie, OK
Ca. 2009
Materials: Painted wood and plastic pegs

This object is a Kiowa hand game set. The set consists of a rectangular painted wooden base (27.5” long by 8.5” high by 5” wide), 37 painted wooden rods that fit into holes along the top of the base (each rod is 12” long and 3/8” in diameter), and 8 pegs made of white plastic that fit into holes along the sides of the base (each peg is 4” long by 3/8” in diameter). Eighteen of the rods are on the left side and are painted dark blue with small white dots all over. Another 18 rods are placed on the right side and are painted in a mottled red and yellow design. There is a single central rod, painted blue with white dots on one end and mottled red and yellow on the other. Half of the pegs are decorated with 3 bands of color while the other half of the pegs are plain. Two decorated and two undecorated pegs are on each side of the base. The base is painted red with a mountain landscape outlined in yellow. Above the mountains, the rest of the base is painted dark blue with small white dots, possibly representing stars.  There is a yellow, red, and blue maple leaf emblem on the top center of the base.

The hand game, common to at least 81 different Native American tribes in North America, is a game of chance. Men, women, and children of all ages play this game. The game can vary in size size, from only a handful of people to around 50 people! Hand games go by many different names amongst the various tribes, including “stick games” or “hands and bones,” but all of them involve guessing in which hand an object, or series of objects, is hidden. This type of game is very old. In fact, Lewis and Clark mentioned this game in their records of meeting with the Nez Perce Indians of Idaho in the early 1800′s.

Generally, a bone, wooden, or plastic bead at least 2 inches long is the object being hidden. In many cases, there are multiple beads (usually two or four). There are always two teams that sit in rows across from each other. A scorekeeper and the musicians usually sit to one side. The game starts by drawing lots to see which team will get to have the bead (or beads) “in hand.” This means that they are the ones in possession of the bead and are responsible for hiding it. The players on the opposite side, who are to guess who is hiding the bead, must watch closely to keep track of where the players are trying to pass the bead from one hand to the other and from one person to another without exposing the bead to view. Each player in the row that has the bead “in hand” act as if they, specifically, are the one to have the bead in order to try to fool their opponents. The teams actively cheer on their own side while trying to distract the opposing team with songs and dances. Every time the opposing side correctly guesses where the bead is, they win a point. The side guessing continues to guess until they miss; then they switch and the other team guesses. The 30 (or more) counting sticks, sometimes referred to as arrows, are used to keep score. The first team to 10 points wins!

Take a look at this video to see a contemporary hand game from Oklahoma:

[Stephanie Lynn Allen]

Object: Moccasin Boots

Moccasin boots
Native American: Crow
United States: Montana
Ca. Late 1800’s or early 1900’s
Leather, sinew and glass beads

These Crow moccasin boots (each 12” H x 9.75” L x 3.25” W) are made of tanned bison skin and have a dark brown rawhide sole that is attached without a welt (a long, thin piece of leather that is normally included in moccasins to reinforce the seams). The top of the foot section on each boot is decorated with brightly colored beadwork in the form of an orange flower while similar orange and light blue beaded flowers appear on the upper portion of the boots. There are leather “laces” on each boot at the top of the foot and then around the upper section of the boot near the shin.

The word “moccasin” comes from an Algonquian word. It became the popular word to use for this type of footwear because the Algonquians were the first Native Americans encountered by Europeans, but each tribe has its own native word for their footwear. For instance, the word for                                                                     “moccasin” in Crow is “Huuptaheele.”

The Crow are a wide-spread people who originally lived on the Great Plains in what is now Montana and Wyoming. Most Crow today still live in Montana.

Native-made moccasins and boots vary dramatically from tribe to tribe in their style, decoration, materials, and methods of manufacture. These moccasin boots were likely made for a Crow woman to be worn along with a traditional buckskin dance dress outfit. This type of outfit consists of a partially beaded skirt, a top with little to no beading, high-top moccasin boots, a beaded purse, a dance shawl, and a feather dance fan. The dancers also often wear chokers, beaded hair ties, fur hair extensions, and other accessories.

Moccasin boots such as these can take a long time to make depending on the moccasin pattern and how complicated the designs are. Moccasins are always made of tanned leather and then decorated in a variety of ways. Each tribe has their own unique style of decoration, and you can often determine a person’s tribal affinity based solely on these designs. Any beadwork and other additional decoration are always sewn onto the leather with sinew before the moccasin is sewn together. All moccasins are actually sewn together inside out and then carefully turned right side out in order to add the finishing touches.

Take a look at this fascinating video about how to make moccasins:

[Stephanie Lynn Allen]

Object: Cradle

Beaded Cradle
North America: Plains
ca 1930
Materials: hide, wood, glass beads

This object is a beaded cradle board that was made by Mrs. Ahpeatoni, a Kiowa woman from Mountain View, Oklahoma. In typical Plains cradle fashion, this is a handmade wooden frame decorated with buckskin and glass beads. Along with the Kiowa tribe, many other tribes of the Plains region created cradleboards for their infants. Many of these tribes traditionally lived nomadic lifestyles, cradleboards provided protection for the baby’s head and neck during travel and made the infants easier to carry while the mother worked during the day. The cradle could be worn as a backpack, or hung from a tree or tipi pole. According to elders, the cradles were constructed upright to help the baby see adults at eye level and helped to socialize the baby.

Kiowa cradleboards are often made using a V-shaped frame made of two long pieces of wood. Men made the wooden frames for the cradles, and female family members made the buckskin pouch and beaded the exterior as a gift for the expecting mother. Kiowa cradles are often beaded in both floral and geometric motifs in many bright colors. This particular cradle’s beadwork is sewn with a “lazy stitch” style. The history of the term “lazy stitch” is explained here. Despite the age of this cradle, the vivid colors of the beadwork are still visible and attest to the rich and lavish artistry. Beaded cradles are still made today by contemporary artists and they continue to be a symbol of pride and traditional culture.

Below is a short video showing a Northern Paiute version of a cradleboard and how the infants would be traditionally wrapped into a cradleboard.

[Alana Cox]

Object: Hairbrush

North America: Plains
ca. 1890
Materials: Porcupine tail, wood, glass beads

Haircare has always been an important part of the daily human routine. Besides just maintaining a clean and healthy appearance, hairstyles can express individuality or identify an individual as part of a specific group. Changing your hairstyle can even make a difference in how you are perceived by others.  A different hair color could effect how old you look, and a different cut or style could make you seem either rebellious or old-fashioned. Pre-contact Native American tribes were no less conscious of hair care and styling that we are today, and they had nearly as many styling products. Hair was shined with animal fat, and was sometimes colored or decorated with colored clay. Some tribes even had techniques to lengthen their hair in a way similar to modern hair extensions or weaves. Certain hairstyles were more closely associated with one tribal group than others. For instance, men of the Kanien’kehake (Mohawk) tribe were known for shaving portions of their head, men of the Apsáalooke (Crow) tribe tended to prefer a pompadour style, while women of the Hopi tribe twisted their hair around circular bands to create a style that resembled butterfly wings on the side of their heads.

This object is a hairbrush made from the tail of a porcupine. It is made by sewing the bottom portion of the porcupine’s tail, where the quills tend to be smaller, around a wooden stick. The seam where the tail is sewn together is frequently decorated with glass beadwork. This type of hairbrush was common among many plains tribes. Porcupines are a type of plant eating rodent best known for their quills. The North American porcupine (Erethizon dorsatum) is the largest species of porcupine in the world. A porcupine may have as many as 30,000 quills on its body. The quills are a special type of hair with barbed tips on the ends. Quills are solid at the tip and base and hollow for most of the shaft. Porcupines use their quills for self defense but, can not “shoot” them at predators. Instead the quills simply detach easily from the porcupine’s body on contact, typically ending up in the mouth or claws of the attacker.  [Kathryn S. (Barr) McCloud]

Object: Headdress

Niitsítapi (aka. Blackfoot Confederacy)
North America: Northern Plains or Southern Canada
unknown date (likely early 20th century)
Materials: Felt, ermine (or weasel) fur, feathers, glass beads, wood, and cotton cloth

This headdress has been attributed to the Niitsítapi people of the northern United States and southern Canada. Niitsítapi, also known as the Blackfoot Confederacy, consists of four separate yet related tribes. These tribes include the Aapátohsipikáni (or North Peigan), Aamsskáápipikani (Piegan Blackfeet or South Piegan), Káínaa (Kainai Nation), and the Siksikáwa (or Siksika Nation “Blackfoot”). These groups share a common dialect of the Algonquin language, they also historically worked together for mutual defense, and frequently intermarry.

The fur found on this headdress comes from ermine pelts. Ermine (Mustela erminea), sometimes called short tailed weasels or stoat, are a species of small carnivorous weasel that is common throughout North America, Europe, and Asia. They were recently introduced in New Zealand as well, and have since become a pest species causing catastrophic losses to native bird species. Ermine live in a wide variety of habitats including: woodlands, marshes, and open areas adjacent to forests or shrub borders. While ermine spend most of their time on the ground they can also climb trees and swim. Ermine use tree roots, hollow logs, stone walls, and rodent burrows as dens. Ermine are carnivores that hunt primarily at night. They primarily eat small mammals of rabbit size and smaller but, when prey is scarce, they can also eat birds, eggs, worms, frogs, fish, and insects. In severe climates, ermine frequently hunt under snow or in burrows and can survive entirely on small rodents.

Similar headdresses can be found at the Blackfoot Crossing Historical Park, the British Museum, the American Museum of Natural History, and others. [Kathryn S. (Barr) McCloud]

Object: Kiowa Fan

Kiowa: Peyote Fan
20th Century
United States: Plains
Materials: Feathers, beads, and buckskin

A peyote fan is an essential object for a peyote meeting. This Kiowa fan incorporates some of the main materials that are used in peyote fans.

The peyote religion is a sacred, yet often misunderstood, spiritual practice of some Plains Indian tribes. Peyote is the major sacrament of the Native American Church. The church has faced its share of scrutiny from the U.S. government and Christian followers. The spiritual use of peyote has its beginnings among indigenous groups in Mexico and the Southwestern part of the United States.

The plains groups learned about peyote in the late 19th century. The Comanche chief Quanah Parker brought it to his people after he was reportedly treated with it in Mexico. He later established the Native American Church, a combination of Christian concepts and traditional indigenous beliefs. Members of the Native American Church believe that peyote is a gift from God. They have a variety of art, objects, and symbolism that is incorporated with their ceremonies and beliefs.

Fans are very important for several reasons. First, the number of feathers in a fan can represent family members. Secondly, the fans are specifically made for individuals. This fan is 22” and is made with hawk feathers. Some peyote fans are made with eagle feathers, macaw, scissortail and even roadrunner feathers. This fan may have been used while cedaring or blessing a person. In effect, the fan brushes away evil spirits. This all takes place during the ceremony.

This Kiowa fan has a buckskin handle and the feathers are partially beaded with the colored glass beads. This bead pattern is consistent to Kiowa and other Plains styles. Beadwork patterns vary from regions and tribes. This fan was likely made before the 1940’s, since it was cataloged in the museum collection in 1952. During that time period, the peyote cult was highly controversial and illegal in the United States. Native Americans were also facing other obstacles in that time period. Since the turn of the 20th century, the Kiowa tribe has resided in Oklahoma due to the Indian Removal Acts. In 1993 the Religious Freedom Act was reinstated. Now, the Native American Church and tribal followers legally consume peyote for religious purposes. Today, there are an estimated 250,000 to 400,00 members of the church.

[Alana Cox]

Object: Bag

Comanche: Beaded Bag
North America
20th Century
Materials: Seed beads and leather

This Comanche beaded tanned white leather bag was used for hunting. The Comanche tribe is one of many tribes that comprise the Plains Indians. See map below for reference. For Plains tribes bags were used to transport and store many different types of game. The Plains tribes would adorn bags and pouches with geometric beadwork designs. This bag is made of white, yellow, red, blue and green seed beads which were applied by lazy stitch in geometric, rectangular patterns. The seed beads were applied to the white tanned leather. Attached along the top and sides there are metal jingles with yellow hair tassels.

Glass bead manufacture had been going on for hundreds of years before Plains tribes were introduced to them. By the 1500s, beads had become readily available by the Venetians. The first recording of the introduction of trade beads to the Americas dates back to Christopher Columbus on October 12, 1942. It is believed that trade beads were introduced to certain groups of Native Americans by Coronado in 1540 when he was searching for gold. Plains tribes were not introduced to trade beads until the 1800s. By the middle 1800s there were huge numbers of seed beads ready to be traded or bought by the Plains Indians. With the introduction of beads the Plains tribes moved from the traditional art form of quillwork to adorning clothing, tipis, bags and any other items which were of personal value with beads.

Plains women were responsible for the beadwork. The art form of beadwork was a way in which the women could gain prestige, as men did this through warfare. Beadwork gave women more power and an immense pride in their art. Plains women created beadwork in geometric designs, which required a lot of thought. This has been said to be attributed to the abstract way that Plains women thought. Beadwork was as important to Plains women as was the ritual dances which the Plains men participated in. The women who were doing beadwork have left a lasting impression of the Plains tribes’ cultures through their art, through their beadwork. While this art form began in the 1800s for the Plains tribes, there are many who still practice beadwork. Now, Native American women as well as men take part in creating beautiful, intricate beadwork.

[Heather Ratliff]

Ethnology @ SNOMNH is an experimental weblog for sharing the collections of the Division of Ethnology at the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History.


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