Collections: Arts of the Americas: Shirt for Chief's War Dress

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    50.67.1a_SL1.jpg 50.67.1a_edited_SL1.jpg 50.67.1a_detail_SL1.jpg

    Shirt for Chief's War Dress

    Dr. Nathan Sturges Jarvis, a military surgeon stationed at Fort Snelling, Minnesota, between 1833 and 1836, collected this war shirt as well as matching leggings (not shown). It is one of the finest, earliest Plains pieces in existence. After the explorations of Lewis and Clark, some Native Americans created trade ties with Euro-Americans. As a result, this garment shows Native invention using new materials and symbols in its decoration along with traditional ones.

    The lane stitch (sometimes called lazy stitch) has been used on the bib and shoulders. The painted designs on the front of the shirt probably represent a tally related to war exploits, such as the linear shapes on the brown side indicating stylized rifles. On the right, in the area partially stained in red, are seventeen linear designs in brown that may represent horse quirts. The shirt is also painted on the back with five triangular shapes with round heads that almost certainly represent people. Horse track designs are on the right lower sleeve in front and on the reverse on the right shoulder. Horses, rifles, and trade beads are all items brought to the Plains after non-native contact, while hides, quillwork, and painted decoration had been used for decades.

    • Cultures: Sioux, Native American; Probably Yanktonai, Nakota, Sioux, Native American
    • Medium: Pony beads, porcupine quills, buckskin, maidenhair fern stem, human hair, horsehair, dye, feather
    • Place Collected: Fort Snelling, Minnesota, United States
    • Dates: 19th century
    • Dimensions: 44 x 68 in. (111.8 x 172.7 cm)  (show scale)
    • Collections:Arts of the Americas
    • Museum Location: This item is not on view
    • Exhibitions:
    • Accession Number: 50.67.1a
    • Credit Line: Henry L. Batterman Fund and Frank Sherman Benson Fund
    • Rights Statement: Creative Commons-BY
    • Caption: Sioux (Native American). Shirt for Chief's War Dress, 19th century. Pony beads, porcupine quills, buckskin, maidenhair fern stem, human hair, horsehair, dye, feather, 44 x 68 in. (111.8 x 172.7 cm). Brooklyn Museum, Henry L. Batterman Fund and Frank Sherman Benson Fund, 50.67.1a. Creative Commons-BY
    • Image: overall, 50.67.1a_SL1.jpg. Brooklyn Museum photograph
    • Catalogue Description: Tailored as an "over-the-head" garment, the shirt is constructed from four pieces of skin (front, back and two sleeves). It is laced together from elbow to wrist on both sides, but the triangular bib is sewn on. Lazy stitch beadwork has been used on the bib and shoulders. Both the front and the back of the shirt are elaborately painted which is unusual. The upper quadrant on the proper left side of the shirt is stained a dark grayish brown, the upper right is smudged with reddish stain. The painted designs on these colored areas probably represent a tally related to war exploits. On the brownish area, sixteen linear objects, possibly stylized rifles, have been drawn in paint, one above the other. On the right, in the area partially stained in red, are seventeen linear designs in brown, bifurcated on the right side that may represent horse quirts. The shirt is also painted on the back with five geometric shapes that almost certainly represent people (torsos are triangular with round heads, but facial features are not indicated). Designs that probably represent horse tracks are on the right lower sleeve in front and on the reverse on the right shoulder. The lower left sleeve at the wrist is decorated with evenly spaced rows of short slashes. The beads used to decorate the shirt are almost entirely large blue and white pony beads, although there are some tube beads on the epaulets and along the sleeve. The porcupine quills are dyed mainly orange and white. The two rosettes on the chest are quilled with brown fern stems and white porcupine quills and are also appliquéd with white pony beads. There are some remnants of white fur on the tips of the fringe at the hip of the shirt. One feather was attached to fringe. Hair locks are made partly of human hair and partly of horsehair dyed blue-green with a few light colored hairs interspersed among the locks. The locks are wrapped at the base with porcupine quills. This shirt is part of an outfit with leggings 50.67.1b, c.
    • Record Completeness: Best (87%)
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    Recent Comments
    21:46 06/29/2011
    The painted design mentioned in your text as "on the front of the shirt" actually is on the back. The five triangular humans are on the front. From the style of the shirt I would guess that these are drawn in red and/or black. It would of course be great to see an image of that side on your database, too.
    The shirt was made in a style also shown by George Catlin, so might possibly be not much older than 1830. See for example his 1832 painting of "Corn, a Miniconjou Warrior" for a similar neck flap and the black-white-black scalplock design along the sleeves.

    Martin Schultz
    Cultural Anthropologist
    University of Frankfurt
    By Martin Schultz
    12:57 07/6/2011
    Thank you for your interest in this piece. We recently had conservation remount the work where the back is now accessible and when new photographs are taken we shall post them for the collection probably sometime later this year. Plains scholars Ted Brasser and Norman Feder, as well as present day Sioux consultants, having reviewed the shirt in person, agree that the possible human figures are indeed on the back of the shirt.
    By Susan Kennedy Zeller, Ph.D, Associate Curator Native American Art
    07:37 07/8/2011
    Thanks a lot for your explanation. It would indeed be very interesting to learn why this shirt would have scalplocks along the sleeves on front-side of the shirt as this differs from what we can see on hundreds of other shirts. Did by any chance any of the above mentioned give a reason for this?
    By Martin Schultz

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