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Quilts and the Yup'ik Seal Parties
Nelson Island women do not remember a time when they did not include strips of cloth in their seal parties. Cotton drilling and calicos were popular materials at the Tununak trading post from the 1800s. In the 1940s a woman could get 25 cents for a handwoven grass basket, enough to buy a yard of cloth.-- Ann Fienup-Riordan, 1997.

Yup'ik Eskimos of Nelson Island, Alaska, have a tradition of sewing quilts from strips of cloth given away at a spring ceremony that celebrates the killing of the first seal of the season. The entire village shares the seal meat, household items, and cloth strips distributed by the family who caught the seal -- usually by literally throwing the objects out their front door. Quilts are made during the following months and given away by parents, in the names of their children, to elders and honore guests at winter dances.

Photo of Kuspuk Kate quilt
Mothers and Daughters/Kuspuk Kate Quilt
c. 1992
Hana Kanga (Yup'ik Eskimo)
41" wide c 50" long
Palmer, Alaska
Collection of Hana Kangas
Photo by Elbinger Studio, Inc.
This quilt only appears in the exhibit as an image on a text panel.

Hana Kangas used this variation of the Sunbonnet Sue pattern to depict Yup'ik women, dressed in colorful cloth parkas known in Yup'ik as kuspuks. Kangas embroidered the names of mothers and daughters in her family as well as illustrations of flowers native to Alaska.

This caption belongs to a historic image on the text panel. Permission has not been granted to display it in the online version of the exhibit.
On Nelson Island in Alaska there is a tradition of stitching or patching bird skins together to make parkas and blankets. A Kashunak elder wears a bird skin parka in this 1928 photograph.
Photo by Father Fox, courtesy of Jesuit Oregon Province Archives, Gonazaga University.
   
Photo of quilt top Quilt Top
1996
Martina Lawrence (Eskimo)
Nelson Island, Alaska
60 1/2" x 100"
Collection of MSUM, acc# 1996:126
Photo by Elbinger Studios, Inc.

Among the Nelson Island Eskimos, strips of cloth are distributed at parties marking the first bearded seals taken of the season. Later in the year, during the winter dance, the strips reappear, this time assembled into quilts and bedspreads that are now distribute by parents, in the name of their children, to elders or honored guests.

Nelson Island women do not remember a time when they did not include strips of cloth in their seal parties. Cotton drilling and calicos were popular materials at the Tununak trading post from the 1800s. In the 1940s a woman could get 25 cents for a handwoven grass basket, enought to buy a yard of cloth.--Ann Fienup-Riordan, ("How Yup'ik Women Spoil Their Cloth": The Seal Party Quilts of the Nelson Island Eskimos," To Honor and Comfort: Native Quilting, 1997)
 
A Tradition of Exhibitons
Quilting was the order of the day then, and they always had a big pow wow. The men furnished the meat and barbecued it...I believe there must have been six or seven hundred people at this quilting. They had arbors all over the ground, and the quilts were hung in them...Prizes were given to the best quilters. I received a strand of white and red beads. --Sarah Ann Harlan (Choctaw)
reminiscing in 1913 about a quilting party she
attended in 1857 near Fort Smith, Arkansas

Quilt exhibitions have long been part of Native life. In displayes at fairs, pow wows, and tribal cultural centers and museums, quilts are often judged and prizes awarded.

This caption belongs to a historic image on the text panel. Permission has not been granted to display it in the online version of the exhibit.
Postcard flyer for 1996 quilt exhibit at the Choctaw National Historical Society. Tahlequah, Oklahoma.
Courtesy of the Michigan State University Museum.

This caption belongs to a historic image on the text panel. Permission has not been granted to display it in the online version of the exhibit.
Flyer for 1997 Ka Ihu Kapa Apana O Waimea quilt exhibit at Waimea, Hawaii.
Courtesy of the Michigan State University Museum.

This caption belongs to a historic image on the text panel. Permission has not been granted to display it in the online version of the exhibit.
Quilts of a variety of patterns are on dispaly in a Shawnee Indian Agency agricultural exhibit c. 1915. The Indian profile is made of grains attahced to a background board.
Photo courtesy of Archives and Manuscripts Division of the Oklahoma State Historical Society. Neg# 193621.3

This caption belongs to a historic image on the text panel. Permission has not been granted to display it in the online version of the exhibit.
This photograph records an impressive display of over thirty Sioux quilts at the "Standing Rock Quilt Exhibit," c. 1910-20 in Fort Yates, North Dakota.
Photo by Frank B. Liske, courtesy of State Historical Society of North Dakota.

This caption belongs to a historic image on the text panel. Permission has not been granted to display it in the online version of the exhibit.
The Rosebud Casino was the site of a 1996 quilt show organized to encourage members of the community to come together to discuss their quilting traditions.
Photos by Marsha MacDowell, 1996.
   
Photo of Chief's Blanket Design quilt Chief's Blanket Design
1998
Jennifer Tsosie (Navajo)
Flagstaff, Arizona
36" x 50"
Collection of Michigan State University Museum, Accession #1998:100
Photo by Elbinger Studios, Inc.

Tsosie earns her living producing quilts and clothing which reflect Native American themes. Tsosie's grandmother, a weaver, also provides the inspiration for some of Tsosie's designs.

   
Photo of Blackfeet Color Study #2 quilt Blackfeet Color Study #2: Navy/Turquoise
1998
Margaret Wood (Navajo/Seminole)
Phoenix, Arizona
42 1/4" square
Collection of Michigan State University Museum, Accession #1998:95
Photo by Elbinger Studios, Inc.

Margaret Wood draws from the design traditions of other tribal groups as well as her own cultural heritage; this quilt was inspired by a picture she saw of a Blackfeet boy's shirt. Wood's quilts have been shown in many local and national exhibits. A former board member of Atlatl, the national service organization for Native artists, Wood continues to volunteer her time and expertise to that organization.
 
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