Arts of the Americas
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During the early reservation period (1860–91), when Native people were forced onto reservations, the buffalo nearly became extinct due to wholesale slaughter by the United States government. European woolen trade cloth quickly replaced hide that was no longer available for garments. The blue cloth was dyed with indigo, and Native women often retained the undyed selvage as part of a garment’s design, as seen on the sleeves and hem of this dress. Wool cloth was easier to cut, sew, and maintain than hide, and thus became a valuable commodity. The dress’s rich blue color is enhanced by the rows of white dentalium shells on the bodice.
Wool cloth, dentalium shells, ribbon, glass beads, brass bells, cotton
Charles Stewart Smith Memorial Fund
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Possibly Sioux (Native American). Dress, 1875-1900. Wool cloth, dentalium shells, ribbon, glass beads, brass bells, cotton, 43 5/16 x 33 7/16in. (110 x 85cm). Brooklyn Museum, Charles Stewart Smith Memorial Fund, 46.96.12. Creative Commons-BY (Photo: Brooklyn Museum, 46.96.12_front_PS2.jpg)
front, 46.96.12_front_PS2.jpg. Brooklyn Museum photograph, 2009
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Long bodice (collar) of dentalium shell is a pre-style form of decoration because these shells were hard to obtain. The Sioux would have traded for them. This would be for a special woman and handed down in families. The very heavy dress does not look reworked and was worn very little and probably only used for special occasions. Blue wool trade cloth, red, white, blue ribbons might indicate July 4th reference. A slit is at the back of the dress and the basic pattern is T-shaped. Four-direction designs on the bottom would be prestige decoration and the little flowers along the bottom are unusual, odd. The bells are different colors. The body of the dress is machine sewn.
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