Chief's War Shirt
Arts of the Americas
On View: American Art Galleries, 5th Floor, Visions and Myths of a Nation, 1800–1890
This elaborately embellished warrior’s shirt is decorated on the shoulders and sleeves with traditional porcupine and maidenhair-fern quillwork. Blue-glass trade beads, called pony beads after the pony saddlebags in which traders carried them, are sewn in patterns on the front bib. The painted horizontal designs likely represent horse whips (representing a tally of war exploits) and blankets. The use of both traditional and new trade materials enhanced the wearer’s prestige.
Buckskin, dye, pigment, glass beads, porcupine quills, maidenhair fern stems, sinew
early 19th century
Henry L. Batterman Fund and the Frank Sherman Benson Fund
Man's shirt constructed with very little tailoring. It is left open at the sides and a triangular bib is sewn on at the neck. This bib is decorated with blue pony beads, patterned with rows of triangles. Strips made of porcupine quillwork and maidenhair fern stems have been placed on the arms, shoulders and as epaulets. Long buckskin fringes have been added at the sides of the shirt, the bottom, and the sleeves.
The shirt is dyed a yellowish-orange color. On the proper right side, many narrow, brown, horizontal bands that are bisected at one end have been painted. These have been said to stand for horse whips. On the proper left, four hourglass shapes, almost completely filled in with black, have been painted. They have been said to stand for cloth or blankets.
The triangular neck flap is beaded somewhat differently from front to back. The front shows two rows of triangles whereas the back includes a third row that contains two triangles. The blue beads visually square off the pointed end of the skin and are similar to the design on Jarvis shirt 50.67.1a.
Sioux. Chief's War Shirt, early 19th century. Buckskin, dye, pigment, glass beads, porcupine quills, maidenhair fern stems, sinew, 30 x 20 in. (76.2 x 50.8 cm). Brooklyn Museum, Henry L. Batterman Fund and the Frank Sherman Benson Fund, 50.67.11. Creative Commons-BY (Photo: Brooklyn Museum, 50.67.11_SL1.jpg)
overall, 50.67.11_SL1.jpg. Brooklyn Museum photograph
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