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Japanese Koguma Helmet


Figure 1. Example of Koguma headgear worn by the imperial troops during the Japanese Civil War, or Boshin War. Image courtesy of the Sam Noble Museum of Oklahoma Natural History, Ethnology Department. 2017. Photo by Christina Naruszewicz.

Accession #- E/1955/17/006

Helmet/Head Gear

Japanese 1860s- (Approximately 1868-1869)

Materials: Lacquered Paper, Copper Fasteners, Fabric Lining, Horse Hair

This striking head-gear survives from an important period in Japanese history. These helmets are often referred to as “Bear Wigs” due to their wild and disheveled appearance. Worn in battle during the Japanese Civil War, or Boshin War (1868-1869), this style of head-gear identified the officers of the Japanese imperial troops. In addition to identifying officers on the battlefield, these types of “Bear Wigs” also represented different regions or clans depending on the color of the horse hair used.  Officers hailing from the southern region of Tosa Jinshotai, wore the Shaguma  helmet. The Shaguma helmet utilized dyes to create a vibrant and terrifying red wig. Officers from Choshu wore the Haguma helmet  which varied from white or cream. Finally, officers from Satsuma wore the Koguma  helmet, typically made from dark or black horse hair. Can you guess which region the helmet is from in figure 1.?


Figure 2. Map of troop movement during the height of the Boshin War. Notice that the regions of “Choshu”, “Tosa”, and “Satsuma” are listed. These Samurai domains fought to return power to the Emperor, by joining the Imperial troops.  Image courtesy of

To understand the driving forces behind the Japanese Civil War, one must go back at least a decade. Beginning in 1853, American Commodore Matthew Perry arrived with his “Black Fleet” at Edo bay. Over the course of the next decade, more foreigners arrived, slowly eroding centuries of Japanese isolationism. However, not all of Japan was happy with the handling of foreign missionaries and traders. This was especially true for factions of young samurai and nobles in Japan from the regions of Tosa, Choshu, and Satsuma. These samurai felt that the reigning military Shogunate allowed the new foreign arrivals too much authority in making trade agreements.

A fissure between the two authoritative powers in Japan developed. On one side sat the political military power of the Samurai. This formed the Shogunate, or system of government headed by generals. Seated at the head of this political system was the Shogun, an reigning individual who, for centuries, controlled feudal Japan with absolute authority. On the other side of this military state, sat the imperial power of the Emperor. At this point in Japanese history the emperor was largely reduced to a ceremonial or religious figure. Although the Shogun ruled Japan entirely, it was still only through the acknowledgment or blessing of the emperor that this power was bestowed. Yet, the Boshin War would upheave this centuries-old power structure.


Figure 3. Image of unknown imperial officer posing in uniform with “Bear Wig” helmet.

Rebellious samurai turned their backs on the Shogun, eager to return the emperor to complete rule. Supporters believed the teenaged Emperor Meji would restore Japan to isolationism, casting out the barbaric foreigners. Despite greater numbers and military skill, the shogun struggled against the relatively more modern weapons of the imperialist troops. Seeing the writing on the wall, the Tokugawa Shogunate abdicated his power to the emperor. This gesture would end the feudal Shogun’s power in Japan forever. When the war was fully resolved and the imperialists declared victory, the Emperor Meji ushered in the self-named, Meji Era. Interestingly, the imperial court did not pursue the removal of foreign agendas in Japan. On the contrary, Emperor Meji pushed Japan further towards globalization, seeking to modernize his country so that it could compete on an international level. Emperor Meji wrote into law the first compulsory education for both and girls, and met many heads of foreign state as equals.



Can you find the imperialist officers in this wood block print of battle?

Where does the color of their “Bear Wigs” tell us they are from?


Figure 4. “Battle of Ueno”,  Kawanabe Kyosai, 1874. Wood Cut. Image courtesy of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

[[Christina J. Naruszewicz]]

bibliography /Suggested Readings

  • Gonick, Gloria. Matsuri! Japanese Festival Arts. Los Angeles, CA: University of California Press, 2003. 
  • “Boshin War”,
  • Keene, Donald. Emperor of Japan: Meiji and His World, 1852–1912. New York, NY: Columbia University Press, 2005.
  • “Perry In Japan”,

Object: Seminole Dolls

E/1953/6/079, E/1953/6/078, E/1953/6/080
United States, North America
Pre-1950 (approximately 1930’s)
Materials: Palmetto Fiber, cotton patchwork, beads

People all over the world produce dolls for a number of different reasons. They are created for religious significance, as toys, collector pieces, or to celebrate part of their culture. The Seminole tribe is no exception to this and creates dolls for the children within their society. These dolls were originally designed to fall apart as the child grew up. However, at the beginning of the 20th century, the Seminole began to mass-produce and market their palmetto fiber dolls to tourists.

Like all Americans, the Seminole were adversely affected by the Great Depression and were in desperate need of a new economic outlet. At this time, Seminole villages were often administered by non-tribal members and were opened as a sort of “human zoo” where tourists could come and watch the Seminole doing daily work in their native environment.[i] These villages would leave the visitor with a sense of “knowing” what it meant to be Seminole. However, they were provided a show of habitat, mythology, and adaptation that was created to reinforce the “unconquered” or “wild” image of the Florida Seminole.[ii] This idea of remaining unconquered was an important aspect of Seminole culture, as they stood against the government’s attempts to remove them from their land.

The Seminole believe the dolls they make for sale are important “because they represent Seminole women at a turning point in their tribal history.”[iii] This was a time in which vast change was occurring for many Native American tribes, and for the Seminole they were trying to reclaim their sense of self in the face of attempts to either assimilate or remove them. Each Seminole woman was “responsible for her own enterprises and kept the profits from her handiwork or distributed them as she wanted… These women set their own prices and kept their profits.“[iv] This allowed the women to have a sense of freedom and control over their crafts. So, while they were being placed on display for tourists and creating items for sale, they still had a say over the prices and income that they could make off of these items.

The Seminole have sold these dolls to tourists since the early 1900s, and they are still available today. The bodies were initially made of wood until around the 1930s when the practice of using palmetto fibers, a natural material found in South Florida, took over. The body of the female dolls is created using a wood or cardboard circular base in order for the doll to be able to stand up. The fibers are wrapped around the base and formed into a cylinder shape with the head being created with a cinched neck. The features of the face are either sewn in or painted on. The dolls can range in size with some being over a foot tall and others being only a few inches in height. Most of the dolls that are created are female, however the Seminole began making male dolls in the 1940s due to popular demand. They are less common as the arms and legs are more difficult to make.[v]

The female dolls were decorated in small dresses with a cape around the shoulders and with beads for earrings and necklaces. Young Seminole women were fond of wearing several beaded necklaces as both a symbol of beauty and status. However, as the women aged, they would give way to comfort and wear fewer pieces of jewelry, gifting them to others over the years. While the clothing used for the dolls were originally small scraps from clothing that the actual Seminole people wore, “shortly before 1920, a new decorative technique was developed by Seminole women – the now famous patchwork.”[vi] This patchwork was quickly adopted as a means to further embellish the already colorful clothing. As more Seminole woman came to own sewing machines, they were able to create more intricate and detailed patterns in order to decorate the dolls. The variety in design is present in every Seminole doll; no two have quite the same design or pattern, which affords each their sense of uniqueness.

The typical hairstyle used for the dolls consists of a hair board or bonnet style. This unique hairstyle emerged in the 1930s and is created by a “fitted crown of cloth-covered cardboard or other flat material giving their hair a definitely pronounced shape.”[vii] This led to many of the dolls seeming to be wearing black bonnets, when in actuality it is a distinctive hairstyle to the Seminole women of the time.

A lot can be learned about the changing nature of dress, tourism, and women’s roles in Seminole society by studying museum objects such as these dolls from the Ethnology Collection of the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History.

[Kathryn Smith]

To learn more about Seminole patchwork, take a look at this great video from the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Seminole Museum:


[i] Nathaniel Sandler and Kevin Arrow. “The Curious Vault 005: Seminole Dolls.” The Curious Vault: Inside the Collection of the Miami Science Museum. March 21, 2013.

[ii] Layla Renee Archer. “Seminole Dolls, Seminole Life: An

Exploration of Tourism and Culture.” Florida State University Libraries. 2005. Pg. 37

[iii] Archer. “Seminole Dolls”. 2005. pg. 41

[iv] Archer. “Seminole Dolls”. 2005.Pg 27.

[v] Sandler and Arrow. “The Curious Vault”. March 21, 2013.

[vi] David M. Blackard and Patsy West. “Seminole Clothing”. Culture: Who We Are. Accessed April 12, 2016.

[vii] Patsy West. “Hairstyle”. Culture: Who We Are. Accessed April 14, 2016.

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]

Object: Porcelain Dish

Dynastic China
Qing Dynasty, ca. 1796-1820
Materials: Porcelain, assorted colored glazes

Porcelain is made from a special type of clay called Kaolin, giving porcelain its distinctive white color.  The Kaolin is processed, shaped by the potter, given a primary glaze and then fired to over 1200°C to make the undecorated object. The porcelain is then ready for the application of colorful enamels, which make up the surface decoration.  With a second firing, the enamels bind to the glaze forming a smooth, bright surface.

The porcelain ceramic style was first developed in China during the Tang Dynasty (618-907 CE) and became popular with the Chinese Emperors. During the Song Dynasty (960-1279) mass production of porcelain began with many of these beautiful objects being exported.  Porcelain became popular with the wealthy in Europe during the Medieval Period but the techniques remained a trade secret until German alchemist Johann Friedrich Böttger successfully recreated them in 1708. Böttger’s work is an early example of industrial espionage as Böttger used reverse engineering techniques that remain popular in a wide range of modern industries.

This Qing Ceramic Dish are decorated with many colorful fruits and butterflies which demonstrate the influences of the European style through enamels and symbols. With such high demand and variation in the works, forgeries are common. Many of the porcelain pieces for sale today are imitations of the classic porcelain style. This great demand has also revitalized traditional porcelain techniques ushering in a golden age for hand-crafted Chinese porcelain.The following video demonstrates how porcelain bowls are made using an electric potter’s wheel instead of traditional foot powered wheel.

Work Cited

Asia Society the Collection in Context. “Dish.” 2007.

Gates, William C. “Asian Art Galleries: A History of Porcelain.”

Koh, NK. “Relationship between Falangcai, Yangcai, Fencai, and Famille rose.” November,

McGregor, John. “Porcelain: A Short History from 1708 to World War I.” 2005.

Nilsson, Jan-Erik. “Marks on Later Chinese Porcelain.” 2000. china-marks.htm

“Ten Rules on ‘How to Deal with Fakes.” 2000.

Seattle Art Museum. “Glossary.” In Porcelain Stories: From China to Europe.

[Travis Bates}

Object: Basket



Armadillo Basket
North America
20th Century
Materials: Armadillo shell

This basket is made from the shell of a nine-banded armadillo. The back of the armadillo forms the body of the basket and the looped tail forms the handle. The nine-banded armadillo is the only North American species of armadillo. Prior to 1850, the nine-banded armadillo was not found north of the Rio Grande river. In the past 150 years, however, armadillo populations have increased greatly in southern portions of the United States, and members of the species have been spotted as far north as Illinois. Armadillos generally live in temperate climates due to the lack of body fat and insulation against the cold. They are the only living mammals with shells and they subsist on insects, plants, and fruit.

The armadillo basket was popularized in the early 20th century by basketmaker Charles Apelt. Baskets, such as this one, were first displayed at the World’s Fair in 1902 and were an instant hit. Charles Apelt started the first armadillo farm in the United States and raised the animals for commercial purposes, producing baskets, lampshades, and smoker stands for tourists and collectors until the 1970s. Armadillo shells have also been used in other countries to make utility objects like musical instruments and food containers.

What do you think about this basket? Share your thoughts and enjoy getting to know the Story Behind the Object!

[Lauren Simons]

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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