Pictures from the Plateau As Seen Through Indian Beadwork

On Display from April 1st – September 8th, 2013

Fort Walla Walla Museum is pleased to announce the exhibition “Pictures from the Plateau as Seen through Indian Beadwork”. This new installation of over 71 items from the collection of Fred L. Mitchell is the largest survey exhibition locally of his vast collection to date. The pieces on display cover a range of beadwork designs dating primarily from the late 1800s through the 1920s. Inspired both by nature and common culture, artisans from the Plateau Indian tribes crafted an extensive body of intricate beadwork designs for ceremonial regalia, formal accessories and daily use. These objects were also valued as art works in their own right.

The Plateau Indian cultural region is comprised of more than 15 tribes from the Central and Southern Interior of British Columbia, Northern Idaho, Western Montana, Eastern Oregon, Eastern Washington and North Eastern California. Since the mid 19th century, the Plateau Indian people commonly used small beads, known as seed beads, to decorate a large range of their clothing and accessories. Seed beads were widely available and came in a variety of colors allowing for a greater wealth of beaded pieces from these tribes during that period of time. Known for their realistic figurative designs of animals and people, complex tableaux juxtaposing figuration, landscape and popular cultural images were common.

Flat beaded bags were developed in the Plateau region around the mid 1800s and were made from woolen cloth and leather, lined with cotton fabric and typically beaded on only one side. They were made with handles and carried as purses or as decorative accessories. One example on display is a small purse with a pink horseshoe design. At just 6 x 4 inches with a 2 inch drop handle it is sized for a small child. Hanging beside the case housing this purse is a photograph, circa 1890, of a 5 year old Plateau Indian girl holding the very same bag. Along with this rare gem there are also 6 beaded formal vests, 2 beaded chest plates for horses known as martingales and over 60 purses and gloves in the exhibition.

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