Object: Hair Ornament

Hair Ornament

Mesquakie (Fox), Tama, Iowa, United States of America
before 1954
Materials: glass seed beads, thread, satin ribbon

This hair ornament came to SNOMNH in May of 1954. It is a beaded “hair tie” or “drop” worn by women of various tribes throughout the Midwest region of the U.S., particularly among the tribes originating near the western Great Lakes such as the Mesquakie (Fox), Sauk, Winnebago, Potawatomie and Menominee. This drop was constructed using a technique called “side-stitch,” which is a hand-woven, or more precisely “oblique interlacing” form of beadwork that creates diagonal rows. This technique differs from loom beadwork, which creates horizontal rows of beads and requires a heddle, a straight loom, or both.

This style of hair ornament was once widely used, but is much less common today. Unmarried women would attach side-stitch drops to a single braid behind their heads and allow them to hang down their backs. Today, when women wear traditional dress, loom beaded strips or decorative ribbon are more commonly used in this same manner; although, both side-stitch drops and “chokers,” worn around the neck of both men and women, are experiencing a sort of renaissance in recent years.

In 1954, SNOMNH (formerly known as the Stovall Museum) received a large donation of American Indian material objects from the General Federation of Women’s Clubs. Among other goals, the mission of GFWC includes efforts to support the arts and promote education. Various local chapters of this organization contributed items from tribes residing in their area to support this mission. The Women’s Club of Iowa contributed this hair ornament, which was given to them by Jonas Poweshiek (Mesquakie)—the great-grandson of the Mesquakie chief, Powesheik.

To learn more about this style of hair ornament, see Alanson Skinner’s “Observations on the Ethnology of the Sauk Indians, Part III, Notes on Material Culture” (1925, p. 133 and p. 167). Also see Georg J. Barth (1993, pp. 145-158) for details on the side-stitch technique and Gaylord Torrence (1989, pp. 3-29) and Mary Alicia Owen (1902) for other relevant material culture background. For more information about the Mesquakie people and their history see here.

The Division of Ethnology at the SNOMNH invites your comments on this hair ornament and/or the style of beadwork used to construct it. nam-10-02-002_detail.jpg[John P. Lukavic]

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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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