Chief's War Shirt
Arts of the Americas
This shirt may have been made for trade, because it has no embellishments that identify a specific warrior owner.
The woman who made it was proficient in many techniques. The bib is delicately embroidered with rays of traditional porcupine quills. On the bodice a two-pony-bead edging technique is used, with blue beads on the top and red garnet beads on the sides. Pony beads are so called because they were brought in by traders in the packs of ponies. The shoulder seam coverings were finely woven on a loom. Hanging tabs along the side and sleeves show pierced decorations.
Buckskin, porcupine quills, garnet beads, pony beads, seed beads, thread
39 in. (99.1 cm)
Floor to top of mannequin- 56 ½ “
Base of mannequin 12 x 12”
Shirt on the mannequin
Front 40 “ long
Back 39” long
Width of the shirt on the mannequin across the front with the arms at a slight angle as they are now- 36”
Shoulder width across the front- 24 1/2”
Front to the back width on the side is 16”
Length of sleeves 2 (show scale)
Henry L. Batterman Fund and Frank Sherman Benson Fund
Man's shirt decorated with beads and quillwork executed in several techniques. The bib has a heart and two flower sprays in red, green, and blue porcupine quills. The top edge is decorated with blue pony beads in a two-bead edging technique: red garnet beads were applied along the sides with the same technique. An inner broken line border of small red and black seed beads are also sewn on the bib. Two “rays" or "spokes". The inner ring, now grey, is surrounded by a ring of light blue which is then encircled by a red ring. The radiant rays are filled with areas quilled in pale yellow, light blue, and orange. Each entire rosette is encircled at the seam by large blue pony beads.
The shoulder seam "coverings" were finely woven on a loom, but are now very deteriorated. A geometric pattern of red and blue "Xs", interspersed with red and blue diamonds are edged with small squares in red, black, and blue. The shoulder strips are checkered, quilled with three lines of colored squares in orange, blue, purple, black, yellow and white and finished along the sides with a zigzag pattern. The seam ornaments and shoulder strips are both edged with a single line of the blue pony beads.
Tabs along each side and along the sleeves have pierced decoration. The "cuffs" are ornamented with two lines of blue pony beads. First, a single line and then a double line closer to the opening. The side seams and sleeves have long fringes, but very tiny fringes at the wrist, with every other one wrapped with orange quills.
The comparatively simple decoration and unwrapped fringe are possibly due to the fact the shirt produced exclusively for sale and so rated less decoration.
See Jarvis report in Arts of Americas' files.
This item is not on view
Red River Metis. Chief's War Shirt, 19th century. Buckskin, porcupine quills, garnet beads, pony beads, seed beads, thread
, 39 in. (99.1 cm). Brooklyn Museum, Henry L. Batterman Fund and Frank Sherman Benson Fund, 50.67.4. Creative Commons-BY (Photo: Brooklyn Museum, 50.67.4_front_SL4.jpg)
front, 50.67.4_front_SL4.jpg. Brooklyn Museum photograph, 2014
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How did women work the porcupine quills?
Carefully! Joking aside; Native American quillwork involves softening and dying the stiff quills and, once they are malleable, weaving/twisting them together or sewing them onto the leather. The quillworker may have held them in her mouth to keep them soft and pliable and then flattened them by drawing them through her teeth (if you look closely you can see they are flat and not round like a quill just out of a porcupine). In the 19th century, the whole process would have been very time consuming, which makes the density of the quillwork on display all the more impressive.
What's this kind cloth?
This war shirt by a Red River Metis or Yanktonai Sioux artist isn't made of cloth but rather buckskin which an animal hide.
This is an elaborate men's shirt made by a Red River Metis or Yanktonai, Nakota, Sioux artist. Traditionally, these shirts would be created by women for specific male owners, who may have also modified the shirt through personalized embellishments. This shirt in particular may have been made for the trade market at Fort Snelling, an army fort and trade hub in Minnesota. The woman who made this was proficient in many techniques; if you look closely you can see quillwork, beading, and pierced decoration!