Native American Clothing: An Illustrated History

Overview

More than five centuries of native peoples' artistry.

Native Americans crafted beautiful clothing out of skins, pigment, quills and sinew. The collection of photographs in this outstanding reference celebrates this decorative genius. Many of the 300 photographs from more than 60 leading museums and private collections have never been published previously.

The book describes the clothing in fascinating detail, from moccasins and tunics to ...

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Overview

More than five centuries of native peoples' artistry.

Native Americans crafted beautiful clothing out of skins, pigment, quills and sinew. The collection of photographs in this outstanding reference celebrates this decorative genius. Many of the 300 photographs from more than 60 leading museums and private collections have never been published previously.

The book describes the clothing in fascinating detail, from moccasins and tunics to sashes, bags and ceremonial and burial costumes. Theodore Brasser explains who made what and how, as well as the meanings of the different kinds of decoration, such as beadwork, embroidery, appliqué, patchwork, weaving and dyeing. There are also many examples of native pottery and other historic artifacts that depict themes used in the clothes.

Native American Clothing provides a thorough historical background of the many influences on this clothing, including:

  • Mythology
  • Social status
  • Political standing
  • Wealth
  • Climate
  • Geography
  • Contact with European settlers.

The book covers the entire North American continent and is organized by tribal groups and regions:

  • Southeast
  • Northern east coast
  • Eastern Great Lakes
  • Eastern sub-Arctic
  • Great Lakes
  • Plains
  • Southwest
  • Plateau/desert
  • California
  • Northwest coast
  • Western sub-Arctic
  • Arctic.

Numerous maps show the ranges of the tribes and convey how trade and travel spread cultural themes.

With authoritative text and art-quality color reproductions, Native American Clothing will be important to collectors and historians and will also appeal to general readers.

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Editorial Reviews

Booklist - Barbara Jacobs
[starred review] By their garments shall you know them. Brasser shares his substantial knowledge with readers as he meanders through 49 states and Canada and parts of northern Mexico to document the history of Native peoples. More than a runway of clothing, the more than 300 color photographs illustrate the similarities and differences among more than two dozen tribes. The author includes archival photographs, plus pictures of weapons, baby cradles, pottery, and baskets, in addition to the illustrations of beaded moccasins, skin shirts and skirts, elaborately plumed headdresses, and the like. The 12 chapters divide the three nations by geography, with early historical facts, maps, spiritual beliefs, and everyday customs, notes about language and assimilation as well as, sadly, the impact of climate change. This is a wise author who allows his pictures to represent one thousands words—and more.
The Globe and Mail Holiday Round-Up
A fashion book with a difference, this gorgeous coffee-table book featuring more than 300 colour and black-and-white photographs of native dress through the ages is penned by a Canadian anthropologist, art history professor and museum curator whose detailed and passionate commentary breathes life into each depicted artifact. Clothing as history.
Maine Antiques Digest
Brasser writes with solid foundations and with clarity about this subject. This survey comes alive for us first with the 300 illustrations. They are sumptuously presented and include early paintings of Native Americans and scarce portraits of tribal leaders dressed in their regalia.
Medicine Hat News
Theodore Brasser lays out a plush pictorial history of tribal groups in 12 regions across North America in [this] weighty, 368-page hardback.
PW Online Weekly Exclusive PW Online Weekly Exclu
[In] this lush, beautiful volume...Brasser breaks the collection into 12 regional groups which represent unique habitats...moving in the direction of European contact, from south to north and from east to west. Each chapter includes a detailed map, the names and localities of various tribal groups, and relevant history, including what is known of pre-contact histories and the region's interaction with Europeans. Throughout, Brasser includes paintings made by European artists...illustrating how native peoples were clothed and decorated at the time of initial contact. Historical essays describe a series of mostly tragic events, emphasizing the improbable survival of so many beautiful garments, bowls, rugs, bags, belts, and other artifacts. Featuring an amazing breadth of clothing design, motif, and technique, Brasser's volume makes an excellent cross-collection resource for anyone interested in indigenous art or Native American history.
SciTech Book News
Author Brasser (former curator National Museum of Ethnology, Netherlands, Canadian Museum of Civilization, Ottawa) provides a lavishly illustrated history and visual record of the clothing of native people from 12 regions of the North American continent. The 300 photographs, many of them published for the first time, are set in historical contexts covering topics such as agriculture, ceremonies, craftsmanship and materials, cultural identity, diet, the division of labor, hunting, migration routes, mythology, shamanism, and others.
Winnipeg Free Press - Alison Mayes
One can't summon enough superlatives to describe this truly beautiful, definitive history of aboriginal clothing, organized into 12 regions covering all of North America. More than 300 superb photos document the artistry and ingenuity of indigenous people through artifacts such as leggings, moccasins and headdresses. Author Theodore Brasser, an academic and former curator at the Canadian Museum of Civilization, expertly traces the social and historical context of everything from Inuit parkas to Hopi masks in this simply stunning volume.
Ontario Historical Society Bulletin
Lavishly illustrated with more than 300 photographs from both museum and private collections...This is truly a gorgeous and thoroughly engaging book!
VOYA - Molly Krichten
Native American Clothing: An Illustrated History is a one-stop compendium of images of and information about the clothing and decorative arts of the First People of all North American regions. The book introduces each region with relevant historical and geographical context. Images are typically captioned with comprehensive information, including a simple categorization, place or tribe of origin, date of use, description of use and remarkable visual features, and where the artifact is held. It is well indexed, and the photo credits will lead researchers to collections and museums to further investigate. While it may be useful for students to have access to such images online through a database, the breadth of this book cannot be matched by any typical art or history database or the Library of Congress American Memory collection. It is a useful first stop on a research project, as the information and images might pique interest in a region or tribe about which a student may not otherwise know. The book's large format and beautiful color images makes this title a worthy addition to any collection in need of information about Native American art and customs, or clothing tradition and design. While image-intensive books such as this one are typically expensive, Native American Clothing: An Illustrated History gives collection developers more bang for the buck, as it is a highly usable and beautifully formatted work, suitable for middle school through college-level researchers. Reviewer: Molly Krichten
Publishers Weekly
Brasser, a retired curator and an expert in the art and design of indigenous North Americans, has picked some 300 examples (from among thousands of artifacts residing in museums and private collections) for this lush, beautiful volume. Brasser breaks the collection into 12 regional groups which represent unique habitats, from the semi-tropical cultures of the Southeast to those of the High Arctic, moving in the direction of European contact, from south to north and from east to west). Each chapter includes a detailed map, the names and localities of various tribal groups, and relevant history, including what is known of pre-contact histories and the region's interaction with Europeans. Throughout, Brasser includes paintings made by European artists (from the early 16th through the mid-19th centuries) illustrating how native peoples were clothed and decorated at the time of initial contact. Historical essays describe a series of mostly tragic events, emphasizing the improbable survival of so many beautiful garments, bowls, rugs, bags, belts, and other artifacts. Featuring an amazing breadth of clothing design, motif, and technique, Brasser's volume makes an excellent cross-collection resource for anyone interested in indigenous art or Native American history. 300 color and b&w photos.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Library Journal
This title presents 300 high-resolution color images of clothing, including shoes, scarves, hair ornaments, masks, leggings, and belts, created primarily in the 19th century by native North Americans. Divided into 12 chapters covering native culture, climate, and information about the arrival of Europeans, the essays are scholarly without being complicated. This detail-rich anthology is Brasser's (art history, Carleton Univ. & Trent Univ.) second book on Native American art and is padded with his scholarly background as curator for the National Museum of Ethnology, Netherlands, and the Canadian Museum of Civilization. VERDICT A good introduction to Native American culture and North American history for high school students and undergraduates, especially those interested in Native American clothing and art.—Valerie Nye, College of Santa Fe, NM
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781554074334
  • Publisher: Firefly Books, Limited
  • Publication date: 8/24/2009
  • Pages: 368
  • Sales rank: 1,262,149
  • Product dimensions: 9.30 (w) x 11.22 (h) x 1.19 (d)

Meet the Author

Theodore Brasser was a curator at the Canadian Museum of Civilization, professor of art history at Carleton University and professor of anthropology at Trent University. He has written extensively for American Indian Art magazine and numerous museum and scholarly publications.

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Table of Contents

Introduction / Crossing Beringia

1 / In the Land of Corn Mother - Southeast
2 / The People of Dawnland - Northern East Coast
3 / Living on the Turtle's Back - Eastern Great Lakes
4 / Pleasing the Spirits - Eastern Sub-Arctic
5 / Between Sky and Underwater - Great Lakes
6 / By the Power of Their Dreams - Plains
7 / Born from This Earth - Southwest
8 / Of Diggers and Prophets - Plateau / Desert
9 / Paradise Lost - California
10 / In Celebration of Wealth - Northwest Coast
11 / Caribou - Western Sub-Arctic
12 / Hunters of the Arctic Coasts -
Arctic

References
Photo Credits
Index

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Preface

Introduction

Climate change has forced itself upon us, more than we might ever have imagined in our wildest dreams. But climate change is not something new, though it has previously run its course beyond the time frames of our human experience. Some 40,000 years ago, as the last ice age was slowly coming to an end, enormous glaciers were retreating northward, followed by large herds of mammoths, wild horses and reindeer. Always following the game, mankind was spreading into Asia from its original residence in warmer regions. Most probably these people protected themselves against the hot sun and windburn by rubbing their bodies with animal grease mixed with red ocher. This ancient means of body protection survived for untold centuries in many parts of the world. Stimulated by a psychological need that animals do not experience, these people adopted various types of body adornment. Body painting and tattooing satisfied vanity and denoted status and prestige long before these roles were taken over by garments.

Vaguely noticeable in the shadows of the past, these people gradually spread northward. The need for protection from the cold climate is what first brought about the invention of clothing. Bone awls and needles found in ancient campsites are evidence of the tailored clothing of the hardy hunters. In order to survive on the northern tundra, they wore furs and tanned hides that were sewn with waterproof seams. The need for protection from the cold climate initiated the invention of clothing. Secondary reasons played a role in much later cultural developments. The construction of garments was undoubtedly the work of women, who took care of the camp while the men were out hunting. This gender-based division of labor in daily occupations may have led to the differences in dress between men and women.

The nomadic bands, widely scattered in the vast expanse of new land,
gradually developed the cultural equipment to survive in the sub-arctic environment of Siberia. While they gathered and dispersed with the seasonal movements of the game herds, some of these people moved east over the course of many generations. Following the game, they entered a wide valley, later called Beringia by our archaeologists. Beringia does not exist anymore; about 14,000 years ago the rising temperatures started to melt the glacial ice, causing the ocean levels to rise. The submerged valley separated Siberia from Alaska and became the present-day Bering Strait. From Siberia, the New World is visible some 55 miles in the distance.

As single families and in small bands, people found their way across Beringia, first across the dry land, followed by others across the ice during the long winters, and in later times, in skin-covered boats. For thousands of years the wandering hunters kept coming, unaware they were entering another continent. They merely remembered that their ancestors had once lived in a more eastern valley or beyond the distant mountains. These migrations involved various groups of different physical types who would have been strangers to each other. The earliest immigrants may have represented mankind before the emergence of the modern races; Mongolian features increased among later arrivals.

It was probably about 25,000 years ago that the first trickle of these people crossed Beringia, to remain in the ice-free parts of western Alaska for a long time. The interior and all of Canada was still covered by glacial ice. However, about 14,000 years ago, an ice-free route opened up along the Pacific coast, followed by a similar corridor along the eastern flanks of the Rocky Mountains. Along these two routes, the first immigrants moved south. Some daring pioneers appear to have reached present-day Pennsylvania 16,000 years ago; 6,000 years after that, people had reached the southern tip of South
America. As periodic markers along this endless river of time, these people left us their stone and bone tools, bark sandals in an Oregon cave, fragments of basketry, and their own bones. These clues tell an increasingly detailed story of a diversity of intelligent ways of life.

By 10,000 years ago, scattered populations lived in every corner of North America. The big game of the ice age had vanished and caribou, buffalo, sea mammals and fish became major food sources. While gathering edible wild plants, roots, berries and seeds, some women discovered the germination of such seeds and the growing of plants for food. Horticulture of squash, maize and beans emerged in Central America about 5,000 years ago and spread into the southern parts of North America, enabling the people to settle in permanent villages. The impact of these economic developments is apparent in the garments they wore, particularly in the predominant use of hide clothing by the nomadic hunters and in the woven fiber materials used by the farming people.

Europeans may have "discovered" North America several times before Christopher Columbus came ashore, believing he had arrived in India. As a result, we still identify the aboriginal people of North America as "Indians," which is a term equivalent in its generality as the terms "Europeans" or "Africans." With each of these terms we refer to a great variety of different peoples. The description of the Arctic population as "Eskimo" is a mere accident in the history of northern exploration; they are as much part of the North American aboriginal population as the Indians are.

Ethnic labels have become a sensitive issue since the 1960s. The term "Native Americans" has become popular in the United States, and Canadian Indian leaders have promoted the term "First Nations."

However, official terminology tends to separate itself from the language of ordinary people. In my contacts with Indians, I have found that few of them are interested in such artificial problems. Tony Hillerman once attended an intertribal conference where this tortured subject came up. The verdict of the Indians was unanimous: Indians call each other Indians, unless the name of a specific tribe is in order. One native participant was greatly relieved that Columbus had not thought he had landed on the Virgin Islands! Following the consensus among the people in question, I use the terms "Indian" and "native" interchangeably. In order to avoid confusion for the reader I will also retain the tribal names conventionally used in the literature, though most of these names are the final products of baffling corruptions of native terms.

In the early European-contact period of the 1500s, the total population of North America was an estimated 12 million people; these people spoke a greater variety of languages than anywhere else in the world. The more than 500 languages were derived from 12 major language families, as different from each other as German and Chinese. Any possible relationship with languages in Asia has been lost in the many thousand years of separation.

The European discovery of North America was a major event in the history of mankind. Never again will we experience such an unexpected meeting with long-lost relatives, not that we our common humanity was immediately recognized. In 1512, the Pope proclaimed that the Indians were children of Adam and Eve, and should be respected as human beings. But the New World was far beyond the control of the Pope and other authorities. What appeared to the Micmac Indians to be bears on a floating island turned out to be bearded white strangers on a big ship. And invariably the European visitors mentioned in their early accounts of the native people that "they go naked except that at the private parts they wear some skins of little animals."

In large parts of North America, daily clothing was indeed minimal. Fully tailored or fitted garments were largely restricted to the arctic and subarctic regions. Yet it is in the other regions that we find the most spectacular development of festive or ceremonial dress, revealing the owner's social status, cult membership, military ran

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