Ojibwe Applied Decoration

Ojibwe family portrait, c. 1905. Ojibwe family portrait, c. 1905. Copyright Minnesota Historical Society, acc. no. AV1978.90.613.

The Ojibwe are a North American Indian people now concentrated around the Great Lakes. Before European colonisation, traditional Ojibwe garments were made of tanned deerskin and decorated with applied items, including animal teeth, bone, pieces of copper and shells. Clothing and other objects were sometimes decorated with dyed porcupine quills or moose hair. Designs were mostly abstract and geometrical.

In the eighteenth century, due to increased contacts with European fur traders, Ojibwe decorative needlework began to incorporate other decorative elements, such as glass beads, small metal bells, small pendants of trade silver (often in the image of animals, such as beavers or otters), buttons and silk ribbons. By the nineteenth century, Ojibwe clothing was mostly made of cotton or wool and decorated with applied glass or steel-cut beads, as well as yarn tassels. While earlier geometric designs were not abandoned, floral designs became common (perhaps due to French influence).

In the late nineteenth century, various Christian church organisations and mission schools taught skills such as quilting and lace making to Ojibwe women. The objects they made were often sold through organisations such as the Sybil Carter Indian Lace Association, and this became an important source of revenue for the women. This, however, more or less ended in the early twentieth century, though the sale of birch bark containers and baskets to tourists continued. By the late twentieth century, a revival of traditional skills, such as beading and porcupine quill work, was underway.



Last modified on Wednesday, 14 June 2017 18:57