Unknown maker, Kwagu’l Kwakwaka’wakw
Wool, cotton cloth, glass beads, puffin beaks,
dentalium shells
Collected by George Hunt in 1897
American Museum of Natural History 16/2356

Dance aprons (tsepa) often depict family crests and are worn as regalia on ceremonial occasions. This one is made entirely of Native and Euro-American trade goods: a wool Hudson’s Bay Company blanket; strips of red broadcloth and printed fabric; and puffin beaks, shells, and glass beads used as noisemakers. It prominently features illegible fragments of text that likely came from recycled flour sacking printed with an advertisement for a Victoria-based real estate agent who advertised throughout British Columbia in the 1870s. The text’s indecipherability suggests its appeal as a design motif valued for something other than its semantic content, perhaps the prestige of literacy or foreignness. The materials themselves would have encoded various economic and social values for both wearer and viewer. Blankets and flour were central commodities distributed as potlatch gifts, and aprons were a form of hereditary wealth. This apron’s owner may also have been displaying a specific affiliation with the Hudson’s Bay Company trading post at Fort Rupert, where it was collected, associating his or her own status with the large quantities of text-bearing commodities exchanged there.

Digital reconstruction of the apron’s source text.

Click here for a discussion about this object (Donna Cranmer)

Click here for a discussion about this object (Lyle Wilson)

Tags for Interactive Tag Cloud: English text, Hudson’s Bay Company, indigenization, repurposing